Magic Shows: The Psychology Behind Magic Tricks & Illusions

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Have you ever wondered how magic tricks really work? By studying the psychology behind magic, young magicians (and young psychologists) can uncover the “secrets” behind successful magic tricks and learn lots about the human brain at the same time!

Distraction and Influence: The Psychology of Magic

Have you ever wondered exactly how it is that magic tricks work? Great magicians perform seemingly impossible feats not through any mysterious form of magic but through the magic of psychology, which lies in the ability to influence decisions and attention subtly. Easy to study at home and community events, magic can be an exciting entry point for psychology studies. In addition to gaining a better understanding of the human brain, perhaps families can learn a few tricks for themselves in the process!

Families can learn together about the connection between magic tricks and psychology by exploring research done by researchers at McGill University and the University of British Columbia. Titled ”Psychology of Magic,” the project explores human decision–making–specifically, choosing cards from a standard deck. Research has shown that, when asked to select any card from a deck, people choose aces much more frequently than any other card and, in particular, they most prefer the ace of spades. 

Of course, not every magic trick revolves around the ace of spades, or any aces at all. The information gathered speaks to more than just our affinity for aces. Magicians pay attention to what people prefer and how they act, and what they choose. Magic tricks rely on subtle distraction and influence, and magicians utilize their observations about audiences to distract and influence according to where audience members direct their attention. Psychology supports magicians in their trade-in that it can help to explain some of the behaviors observed during magic tricks – and with a deeper understanding of audiences comes a repertoire of better tricks.

To gain experience in observing magic tricks, attend an upcoming kid-oriented magic show. Check our list of Weekly Suggested Events for opportunities. Many magic show events tend to happen during school vacation week and the summer months.

And before you watch the pros? Learn a few kid-friendly tricks to show off after the show! Show off some rising queenscut the deck perfectly, or create your magic tricks based on close observation of your audience’s decision-making and the direction of their attention!

[Photo credit: (cc) Erwin]

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