Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic

Each magic performance is a process that affects the brain and perception of the audience, bringing about extremely interesting experiences.

Magicians always make us feel that their performance is light and easy. But in fact, like ballet, behind each performance is a very elaborate staged process that no one can recognize.

However, “magic” is after all “tricks” to deceive human perception. And now, two neuroscientists Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik of New York University (USA) have unearthed how magicians affect our brains.

One of the most important abilities in magic is the ability to attract attention – or misdirection.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic
The most important ability in magic is the ability to attract attention.

This is a concept that is easily misunderstood. Audiences often believe that magicians distract them with some particular gesture, but this is not true. Instead, they are distracted by magic effects, and here the viewer’s brain is the “effective assistant” for the magician.

Why? Our brains are under the influence of what is called the spotlight of attention . In it, we will often turn our attention to something more prominent. But at the same time, the brain also automatically “inhibits” other things by comparing with the surrounding environment.

This means that magicians only need to direct the audience’s attention to a certain spot on the stage, and the brain will automatically do everything else.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic
The magic trick that makes the coin disappear: the magician must hold the coin with his thumb. The audience sees the coin in the right hand, thereby forming a signal in the brain. Then the left hand approaches and pretends to have taken the coin – a distraction.

And how do they do so? Susana revealed that one of the most effective methods is to change the direction of the audience, and they have many ways to manipulate the viewer’s eyes. For example, ask the question: “What card is this?” , or “what year was this coin made?”, combined with sign language.

In particular, magicians also take advantage of the so-called crowd effect . For example, when one sees a crowd looking up at the sky, one cannot resist the urge to follow.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic
The left hand now pretends to have taken the coin, and all believe so, because this action stimulates the brain to pay more attention to the left hand. In fact, the coin is still in the right hand.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic
At the same time, the brain inhibits images of the right hand. As a result, the attention given to the right hand is distracted, and as a result no one notices the trick they used.

Can you spot it?

If you simply change your gaze and gaze, the magician will be caught quickly. However, that’s not the only way to distract the audience, but instead “split their attention” with small requests.

In this way, the viewer will automatically focus on where the magician wants, because at this time the brain is forced to perform many tasks at the same time, thereby reducing its effectiveness.

An example can be taken in the relatively classic “ball and cup” magic show below.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic
The magic show consists of 3 balls and 3 upside down cups. The ball is placed on top of the cup, and somehow “runs” inside without anyone understanding why.

This performance divided the attention of the “victim” into 3 parts, making it difficult for them to notice the trick.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic
And here’s the secret: the 4th ball inside the cup in the middle.

Hitting the emotional element is one of the tricks of the magicians. Emotions and attention are inherently incompatible, so if emotions go up, attention goes down. This is also the reason why witness testimony is often rated as “unreliable” and needs a thorough re-investigation.

Some magicians take advantage of the emotion of fear, as this is when human memory is at its weakest. An example can be taken from the “saw people” repertoire that has made waves all over the world.

However, the emotion that gets hit the most is humor . Johnny Thompson – a famous magician said that when the audience laughs, time seems to stop, their attention also decreases accordingly.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic

What the audience sees: The magician’s assistant stands in a long, narrow rectangular box. This person’s shoulders and knees are exposed, and the body is covered by a dark cloth. Then, the magician pierced the assistant like a sword, poking out of the box and waving to the audience. The person standing in the box, obviously still unharmed.

Decipher the “tricks” that magicians use to fool us.

Fact: The key is mostly in the toughness of the assistant. Specifically, this person will skillfully bend his body so that his head and legs remain in place in front of the audience. Behind the curtain, the magician will slip through the empty part of the box, appearing as if he has just passed through the person standing in the box.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic

What the audience sees: The magician holds up a handful of sewing needles we usually see, swallowing in a spectacular way. Then, this person will put a thread in his mouth, slowly release a thread full of needles, hook it steadily into the thread.

Fact: The magician’s performance and expressions play a very important role in “tricking” the audience in this performance. First, the performer will skillfully insert the thread already threaded with the needle into the mouth first, placing the needles just below the inner part of the teeth.

On stage, when performing needle swallowing, this person will of course not actually swallow but still keep these needles in the mouth. The last thing to do is just grasp the end of the thread in the mouth first and slowly pull out the prepared needle thread.

What the audience sees : A person is placed on a very sharp looking spear. However, the spear didn’t seem to be able to hurt this person at all. After a wave of the magician’s hand, the sharp tip of the spear pierced the person lying on it. In the end, when the man was pulled from the spear, he was unharmed.

Science unmasks the most used tricks in magic

Fact: On the body of the person lying on the spear is equipped with a special belt including a support at the waist that is able to help the body to balance easily on the spear. In addition, on this belt there was a small, shallow hole, which could fit into the body of the spear.

As for the pointed spear in the middle of the stage, its pointed tip was actually made of soft rubber or plastic. In addition, the head can be easily retracted. When the person taking the “adventure” lies up, the tip of the spear will be pushed down.

In addition, the helpers carrying this person onto the spear will be responsible for fitting the round hole in the waist belt to the spear body. It’s a way for the performer to lie down.

The more interesting part lies in the fact that the sharp end of the spear pierces the person lying on it. After the performer has been lying down, the person acting as the magician will pretend to “cast a spell” to attract the audience’s gaze.

During that process, the person lying on the spear would place his hand on his stomach – where the belt was worn – in a gentle, unnoticed way. There will be a piece of magnet on the belt on the belly, when the magician makes the last wave of his hand, he will put an iron spearhead in his hand on the piece of magnet. This way, the audience will only see one person being spectacularly pierced.

In addition, the performance would not be perfect if the stabbing device was not designed with a lower body part. This part is adjusted by an outsider via a rope. When the magician gives a signal, the spear will be lowered, as if it had actually pierced the person above.