Study suggests magicians unconsciously blink to manipulate audiences into tricky tricks

A new study sheds light on an unconscious tactic magicians may be using to trick their audience. The experience, published in the journal Psychology of consciousness: theory, research and practice, found that magicians blinked more when performing difficult tricks. The researchers suggest that this tactic can be used to encourage synchronized audience blinking, so viewers are more likely to miss misleading actions.

Magicians are notorious for manipulating the consciousness of their audience. In 2016, a study by Wiseman and Nakano found that viewers demonstrate synchronized blinking while watching magic tricks, especially during times when covert actions are performed by the magician. This suggests that magicians may misdirect the audience by encouraging them to blink – and thus relax their attention – during moments of deception.

While this manipulative tactic sounds impressive, there are fears that a magician’s winking behavior could lead to their own demise. Author of the study Anthony S. Barnhart and his co-authors note that magicians often rehearse their tricks in front of a mirror, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they have a habit of blinking when performing acts of deception.

“Before I was a scientist, I was a professional magician,” explained Barnhart, associate professor and chair of psychological sciences at Carthage College. “My experiences as a magickal performer have shown me how fallible human perception and memory can be, so as a psychologist I frequently turn to magicians as a source of ideas about the mind that doesn’t. have not yet been tested. When learning magic, I was warned of the tendency of magicians to blink while performing a sleight of hand in a rehearsal setting in front of a mirror, if thus blinding to any evidence of their competence (or lack thereof) with the deceptive action.

“I decided to seek empirical evidence for this behavior after scouring the literature on self-deception and realizing that this evidence supported the existence of deep self-deception (where a person both knows the truth and actively pushing that truth out of his consciousness) was rare. If I had found evidence of this winking behavior in magicians, it would have been one of the first solid evidences of deep self-delusion in literature.

To explore this possibility, the researchers recruited a sample of 11 magicians who had been practicing magic for six months to 50 years. Magicians watched a tutorial for a magic coin trick involving 10 sleights – a term for deft hand movements used to trick onlookers. A week later, the magicians were filmed performing the magic trick four times – twice during a rehearsal in front of a mirror and twice during a performance in front of a video camera.

The researchers analyzed the footage from each performance and identified frames during which the magicians practiced sleight of hand (experimental frames) or did not engage in sleight of hand (control frames). They then coded these frames, noting whether participants’ eyes were open or closed. Finally, they performed an analysis to see if participants’ blinking differed by condition (repetition vs. performance) and type of setting (experimental vs. control).

The results revealed that magicians increased their blinking in times when they practiced acts of deception (i.e., in experimental settings). However, contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, this was only true in the performance condition, when the magicians performed the trick in front of a video audience. Other evidence found that magicians blinked more frequently when performing the most difficult acts of deception, suggesting that their blink rate increased with cognitive effort.

Barnhart and his colleagues say their findings suggest that magicians’ blinking during acts of deception did not work to deceive performers of their own skill. Rather, they suggest, it also served to encourage the audience to blink, helping the magicians conceal their secret actions.

“While my magician participants were more likely to blink when performing a deceptive action than when not doing so, this tendency was increased in a performance setting without a mirror compared to a rehearsal setting with a mirror. “, Barnhart explained to PsyPost. “It was surprising and did not match the predictions of the magic world. Our model results point to a potentially interesting phenomenon: we suggest that magicians may blink when performing a sleight of hand to encourage their audience to do the same, thereby blinding the audience to any evidence of the magician’s shenanigans. »

Notably, blinking tends to occur during times when visual information is scarce. If a magician increases their blink rate, it could signal to the audience that there is nothing important to see. “While blinking during the performance may act as a ‘tell’ for the audience, it could also tell them that they have reached a point where there is very little useful information in the visual stream” , explained the authors.

A significant limitation of the study was that the researchers were only able to recruit a small sample of magicians due to the demanding nature of the experience. Nonetheless, a large amount of data was collected from each participant, with the researchers analyzing an average of 9,339 video frames per magician.

“Our interpretation of this surprising pattern of results is post hocBarnhart noted. “Our actual experience is independent of the source of this model. However, the model is consistent with findings from the blink training literature, which shows that media viewers are likely to train their blinks towards those of a speaker if they are dealing with narrative content.Future research should explore whether a magician’s blinking behaviors impact their audience’s blinking behaviors and therefore their audience’s perceptions of magic.

“This work is published in a special section of Psychology of consciousness: theory, research and practice edited by the leadership of the Science of Magic Association, an organization that promotes rigorous research aimed at understanding the nature, function, and underlying mechanisms of magic,” Barnhart added. “I encourage readers to follow the activities of the group on https://scienceofmagicassoc.org/.”

The study, “Tactical Blinking in Magicians: A Tool to Deceive Yourself and Otherswas written by Anthony S. Barnhart, Kaitlyn Richardson and Shawn Eric.

Brian L. Hartfield