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What if you suck attention away?

Hi! Performance is pretty good in both conditions (particularly in the clear condition). What happens if you grab some attention elsewhere at relevant moments. For example, have a mudsplash or flashing light behind the magician.... flashing/appearing "randomly", but actually have it coincidentally happen near critical moments. (perhaps ask people to also count the flashes?). Anyway, IF you can pull some attention away, are there any interesting changes?

Two other quick questions: (1) any interesting individual differences? (2) What if people watch the video upside down (well, make the movie upside down, not the people...). :)

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2 Answers
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Accepted answer

What you are propposing is something that actually magicians already do in their magic numbers. When magicians are performing, they will always try to distract you attention at specific times in order to make you miss the trick. So we would expect performance to decrease in those conditions.

We haven't tested the experiment with the videos upside down. One of our working hypothesis was that the ball falling would be a strong attention grabber because of gravity. We actually rejected this hypothesis since the behavior and performance of the subjects did not show any significant difference.

We also could not find any remarkable individual difference across our subjects.

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I realize that magicians try to distract attention during their numbers ... I mean, that is really sort of obvious. What I am suggesting is: perhaps by explicitly incorporating a "distracted attention" condition, you might be able to find some significant/meaningful differences between the various conditions in your experiment. (i.e. ceiling/floor effects might be hiding interesting effects here). Just a thought...

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It could work, but I'm not sure what it would add to the results we got already... also, in this research we were trying to help Teller figure out if his theory was correct, and why, if so (it wasn't). Meaning that ecological validity was an issue. That is, even if the flashes/mudsplashes did enhance the misdirection, would Teller be able to incorporate them in the performance, and would they add value to the spectator's experience? One reason the experience of magic can be so powerful is that magicians are careful to give the impression that nothing overtly contrived is going on (a good magician seems natural and spontaneous -- although that's far from the truth). Otherwise, the whole thing becomes less of an art and more of an intellectual exercise devoid of emotion for the audience.

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Accepted answer

I think an individual differences approach is an excellent idea. Our study didn't find anything, but it wasn't designed to ferret them our either. We'll consider that in our designs going forward.

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Ask me anything journal club

- On The Neuroscience of Illusion

Who: Dr. Stephen Macknik, Director of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology at Barrow Neurological Institute, Dr. Susana Martinez-Conde, Director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience, and Mr. Hector Rieiro, graduate student at the Barrow Neurological Institute.

What: Drs. Macknik and Martinez-Conde and Mr. Rieiro have studied a magic trick filmed in magician duo Penn & Teller’s theater in Las Vegas, to illuminate the neuroscience of illusion. Their results advance our understanding of how observers can be misdirected and will aid magicians as they work to improve their art.

Drs. Macknik and Martinez-Conde and Mr. Rieiro will be answering your questions live from 8am-10am PST, regarding their article, magic illusions, or any other topic of relevance to visual neuroscience.

When: December 17, 2013 08:00 am PST

Where: Ask me anything - On The Neuroscience of Illusion