Kart Tricks: More psychology than magic

The self-reliant card trick is an illusion

Magicians manipulate us at Card Trick © McGill University
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Choose a card, any card - this is how many magic tricks start. But do we really choose freely and freely? Researchers have now got to the bottom of it. And, as it turned out, free choice is indeed an illusion. Because our behavior is subliminally manipulated - everything is a question of the wizard's skill and ability

The Magic Trick makes it easy to influence our decision. © McGill University

Everyone knows that: You should pick a card from the game, the magician claims to know beforehand which one. There are 52 ways to make a decision - and 51 ways to make the wizard wrong. Too many options, one should think. Nevertheless, it comes as expected, the magician chooses the right card. We are amazed and although we know it must be a trick, we can not understand it. What is certain is that we have chosen completely freely, or not?

Magic still little explored psychologically

Magic and psychology are closely intertwined, though one is more of a hocus-pocus and the other a profound science. Many magic tricks specifically exploit our psychological weaknesses. Now, a research team from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, has explored one aspect of this relationship in more detail. They wanted to know how certain psychological factors in card tricks affect our choices.

"We started with a basic principle of sorcery that we did not fully understand: how magicians influence their viewers to pick a particular card without them being aware of it, " explains lead author Jay Olsen, himself a hobby wizard. People tend to choose options that stand out without noticing that they are, explains the researcher, who is a professional magician himself.

Subtle manipulation

In the two-part experiment, the researchers asked their 118 subjects to select one card from each game. Once Olsen presented the trick itself, once should be chosen from a virtual card game on the computer. The wizard and scientist proceeded as follows: He flipped open the card game one after the other and asked the participants to remember a card. display

What the subjects did not know: A single card unobtrusively distinguished Olsen, inter alia, by showing her a little longer than the others. And indeed: 98 percent of the participants chose the heart Ten wanted by Olsen. The interesting thing about it: Hardly anyone noticed the influence, because for the performance of the trick Olson needed just half a second. Only nine percent of the participants thought they had not made a free choice.

One factor alone is not enough

In the second run, an animated program would flip the cards in the same way. And here, too, a special card was shown a bit longer. In total, only 30 percent of the subjects selected the target card this time. Here, too, the subliminal influence seems to work but much worse than in the presentation of the magician. But why?

"Perhaps because many lacked the social and situational factors that make up the card tricks, " explains co-author Ronald Rensink. Because with a card trick the spectators are influenced by several factors. Not unimportant for the trick are, for example, the personality of the magician, the expectations generated by the demonstration or even the pressure to quickly select a card.

Magic gives new perspective on behavior

Magic and science are actually two opposites, one might think. For where magic tries to obscure truth, science has the goal of revealing it. But studies like these show that magic can also help us better understand our behavior and our psychology. It remains unclear whether the magic does not lose its magic. (Consciousness and Cognition, 21015; doi: 10.1016 / j.concog.2015.01.004)

(McGill University, 12/02/2015 - MAH)