She transforms before your very eyes! (using smoke and mirrors!)

is Magic really all smoke and mirrors? In the literal sense, no. Not all magicians utilize smoke and mirrors to captivate and awe-inspire their audience; well, the good ones don’t at lease. So what is a magician’s secret to a great magic trick, without the use of smoke and mirrors? A magic trick that utilizes principles of cognitive psychology. Many magic tricks are actually taking advantage of how the audience views the world. An excellent example of this is a simple card trick that involves a dollar bill and a regular playing card. The trick is a simple one, once it is explained, but it takes advantage of the principle of unintentional blindness, that is, the trick happens all in front of our eyes and we don’t see it. So it seems that magic is more than just smoke and mirrors after all.
So how do magicians utilize cognitive psychology in their magic tricks? Most of their tricks are taking advantage of the flaws in the human eye. The eye can only see vivid details from a particular spot, which we learned in class is called the fovea centralis. The rest of the eye that relays visual information to the brain does so less accurately. To compensate for this, we must continuously move our two foveas, one for each eye, on to whatever thing, or stimulus, we wish to get a better view of. But moving our foveas is not the only compensation tactic we utilize to make up for the flaws of our eyes vision. Our brains have the ability to manipulate the information that our eyes send and do not send. For example, our peripheral vision is not good at picking up color. Were able to see color in our peripheral vision because our brain is inferring the color. At face value, our brains ability to manipulate what we actually see seems like a great thing, but this ability has its faults as well. When we are concentrating on something particular, our brain, in attempts to simplify our life, is also capable of ignoring some of the information that our eyes are sending it. This phenomenon is referred to as inattentional blindness. Most magician’s magic tricks are performances that take advantage of a cognitive psychology principles, like the two mentioned, in one form or another. There you have it, I guess the rabbit is out of the hat.

An excellent example of how magicians utilize cognitive psychology in their magic tricks is provided below.

Were you surprised by the sheer simplicity of the trick? I sure was! If you were like me and didn’t notice how the magic trick was first performed, don’t beat yourself up about it-it’s just a little hocus-pocus!  As you can see from the video, the card trick takes advantage of both our eye’s poor peripheral vision and our brain’s ability to ignore sensory information. At first the magician presents a normal appearing playing card and a dollar bill. He folds the dollar bill around the card a few times, snaps his finger and boom! The card magically seems reversed on the bottom as it slides between the dollar bill. Unfortunately, there is no magic. The magician has not only cleverly concealed the fact that the card is ripped, but also folded it before his audience without them noticing it. For the most part, the rip is concealed by the magician’s thumb, but when it is exposed it is most likely to go undetected. This is because the audience is probably paying attention to the green dollar bill, and our peripheral vision is not strong enough to pick up the hints of the ripped card. At exactly 0.37 in the video, you will notice that the bottom left corner of the card, right under the ‘LAR’ of the word dollar, is more shaded than the rest of the card. This is because the magician is starting to push this part of the card backwards in preparation for the trick. Within a few seconds of this, at .40 the magician uses his pinky, ring finger, and middle finger to push the rest of the portion of the ripped card back as he unfolds the dollar bill in front of the card. Here, the magician is taking advantage of the phenomena of inattentional blindness. While he unfolds the dollar bill open, most audience members are probably focusing on the dollar bill and are not noticing his three fingers reaching behind the card to push the ripped portion of the card back. Thus before he even snaps his finger, which most probably recognize as an attempt to divert their attention, the trick has already been played. Thus, this cleaver magician has provided us with a perfect example of how magicians utilize cognitive psychological principles to perform their magic tricks.

Magic. It’s mystical! Its stupendous! It’s a big fraud! It also uses cognitive psychology to fool its viewers into believing that it is real. Well, at least the stuff you see on the street corner and in las- Vegas anyway. The real stuff is just referred to as technology now days. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” Author C. Clarke. Though, to be fair, even technology utilizes cognitive psychology on its users in some form or fashion. So the next time you hear someone say “all magic is-is a bunch of smoke and mirrors”, you can say “Actually, it’s all cognitive psychology baby!”