Magicians are Cognitive Artists

At the very same institution where Houdini was fatally punched in the gut, McGill University in Montreal, psychologists and neuroscientists are trying to learn more about their respective fields by studying how magicians fool people.

We read about the investigations into psychology and magic in a recent issue of The Atlantic.

Jay Olson is one of the researchers working on what a recent issue of the journal of The Frontiers of Psychology call “neuromagic.” In an article “The Psychology of Magic, the Magic of Psychology,” Mr. Olson reported on a fascinating study where subjects were shown the same trick over and over until they figured it out.  We now have scientific data to support the maxim that a magician should never perform the same effect twice.

Mr. Olson studied the psychology of forcing.  To his credit, Mr. Olson refused to disclose the secret of the forcing technique he used.  He was able to successfully force a card on a subject 98 percent of the time – and 91 percent of the time, the subject felt the choice was entirely free.  The study authors wrote, that magic “can provide new methods to study the feeling of free will.”

Perhaps more importantly, some curious magicians might hope, the study can teach an effective forcing technique that works 98 percent of the time and leaves nine out of ten participants ready to swear the choice was entirely free.

Again, Mr. Olson refused to disclose his secret method.

We urge you to visit the study’s website to learn more about the work done and the areas of investigation.  It really is a fascinating read.  Like painters are masters of perceptual illusions, the study notes, “magicians are the cognitive artists.”

Check out additional articles in the field here.

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