Magic Shows: The Psychology Behind Magic Tricks & Illusions

Distraction and Influence: The Psychology of Magic

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!

Have you ever wondered exactly how it is that magic tricks work? Great magicians manage to perform seemingly impossible feats not through any mysterious form of magic, but through the magic of psychology – the magic of which lies in the ability to subtly influence decisions and attention. Easy to study at home and at community events, magic can be an interesting entry point for studies of psychology and, 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, the choosing of cards from a standard deck. Research has shown that, when asked to choose 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 not only pay attention to what people prefer, but how they act and what they choose. Magic tricks rely on subtle distraction and influence, and magicians utilize their observations about audiences in order 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 deeper understanding of audiences comes a repertoire of better tricks.

In order 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 queens, cut the deck perfectly, or create your own trick based on close observation of your audience’s decision-making and the direction of their attention!

[Photo credit: (cc) Erwin]

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