Seminar Series

How magicians distort our perception: Misdirection and Representational Momentum

The ancient art of magic and illusion relies on thoroughly tried and tested psychological principles. As a magician myself, I am interested in applying the techniques used by performance magicians to manipulate what an audience perceives, to help understand visual perception. I will talk about experiments we conducted which involved tracking observers\' eye movements whilst they watched a magic trick developed specially to rely only on misdirection to influence perception. The results indicated that the effectiveness of the misdirection relied on manipulating visual attention rather than fixation. However, we found a strong temporal relationship between attention and eye movements. These findings will be discussed in terms of the relationship between eye movements and attention, and will be linked to the phenomenon of inattentional blindness. I will also discuss the way in which people can be made to perceive things that are not actually present. In a series of experiments, we showed observers a magic trick using a ball. In this trick the magician pretended to throw the ball up in the air. Even though the ball remained secretly palmed in the magician\'s hand, most observers claimed to perceive the ball leaving his hand. This magic trick demonstrated how people can be made to perceive an imaginary object, a phenomenon similar to representational momentum. Furthermore, by experimentally manipulating the magician's social cuing and analysing observers' eye movement strategies, we demonstrate that participants' percept of the event was largely determined by their expectations rather than the actual visual input.