McGill researchers show how magicians sway decision-making


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Am I a dick for making an effort to choose my card in advance of seeing the magician’s deck at all? I mean - I know what cards are going to be in it.

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It’s fun teaching a group of people how to force cards. There’s always at least one new learner who’s able to reliably force a pick on every other person there, even though every single one of them knows exactly what they’re trying to do and is trying to subvert it.

The psychology behind magic is so fascinating to me.

I call foul. At that fast of a riffle, there’s no way a person would see a single card except for that one card modified to hang long enough to be visible. Important here is that the volunteer isn’t being asked to imagine a card - listen to his language - the volunteer is asked to glance a card and report back the card they saw. So if the only card you can see is the Ten of Hearts and you answer that, that’s hardly psychological manipulation. You’re simply responding the only way possible.

The real persuasion here isn’t demonstrated within the trick itself, but rather how people are made to think there’s merit to this study.

I think you’ve missed the point.

The point isn’t that people are “reporting back” the only card they were shown – it’s that they don’t realize that that’s the only card they’ve been shown. They think they’ve been shown the entire deck, when they haven’t. And that’s the psychological manipulation being studied.

No, I haven’t missed the point. I had considered your point before my post.

You say they think they’ve seen the entire deck? How do you know that? Do they claim having seen other cards? How do you know they’re not thinking, “Well the only card I can remember seeing is the Ten of Hearts.” With such a blur going by, why would anyone think otherwise? Isn’t this the most rational explanation for virtually anyone’s response?

I stand with my original comment.

If you read into the articles the ‘study’ done where the researchers say a card is bent to force it to present slightly longer, near the bottom of the page is a video, showing the routine in action with four ‘forces’. The fourth isn’t actually a force at all, the spectator chooses a number, and then after he tells the prestidigitator the number, it is then written on a piece of paper. If you watch that section very closely, you can see it happen, and the clue is that his right hand, which holds whatever passes for a pencil, is put away when the paper is presented with the left hand.

As to @Barnabus’ argument, first of all, welcome to BoingBoing. Hope you aren’t here just for this one post. Anyway, I also think you have missed the point. The point is that the spectator is forced to choose a card based on the way the cards are presented, BUT THEY FEEL AS IF THEY CHOSE FROM AMONG MANY CARDS THEY SAW. You said we can’t read their minds, and perhaps they felt forced, but watch again the video in the link provided here, and review the first three forces, and notice that in every case the spectator rates his freedom of choice at the maximum of 10.

Now watch it again, and see if you can figure out, without googling ‘how do magicians force cards on spectators’ or something similar, and ask yourself how hundreds of participants all chose the forced card, yet felt as if they had complete freedom in choosing?

That’s the magic of magic. It absolutely is based in psychology, and better understanding of psychology can lead to better magic tricks, just as some of the very best magic tricks can perhaps open doors into a better understanding of psychology. There is plenty of merit to the study, because it exposes how easily we can be manipulated, and not knowing that is how we readily accept things like ‘Fat Free!’ as a positive message on a package of Twizzlers. We’re duped into forgetting that of course Twizzlers don’t contain fat, they’re made of sugar and gelatin and flavors. That’s just one obvious merit to better understanding the psychology of misdirection. If you think there’s no point to that, well, then you’ve missed something.

One of the first things I taught my daughter was, “There’s no such thing as magic; just cheating.” She’s gotten pretty good at misdirection while pick-pocketing, but I’m not sure that’s where I wanted this to end up.

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Thank you for your welcome. I’ve been here before but I couldn’t seem to open my old account, thus the new one.

I’m very sorry, but I can’t watch that video. All that dark, shaky camera work and the reverberate audio grates on me. I know it’s subtitled but I was trying to listen to their voices to gather tone. And sorry, I can’t make the proper time to read and digest the report that you linked. For convenience’s sake, why don’t we say I’ll follow along the notion that people report not feeling manipulated.

Maybe it’s because I was a kid magician, or maybe I’m just not terribly suggestible (I’ve tried hypnosis many times without experiencing any noticeable suggestibility), but I can’t imagine experiencing a trick like this without critical faculty kicking in, and realizing that a trick deck must have flashed the card I chose. How could you not think that?

Maybe people feel pressure to say something – anything – because they can’t quickly come up with an explanation for how the trick worked. Somewhat in the same way it’s been debated that hypnotic subjects may report experiencing an effect because they want to please the hypnotist, not because they actually experienced hypnotic phenomena. So there is suggestibility there as a form of social pressure to please someone, or to be coerced to spit out an answer in a tight time frame, which is quite different then actually being made to believe that they had free choice.

Ha, ha! Good to find a vocation at an early age!

Three of clubs?

I can force people to choose the cards I want too, even without seeing the cards. I perfected the technique THREE years ago, and have tried it out in CLUBS.

Go ahead, pick any card from a standard deck.

Okay, now tell me which card you picked.

What’s utterly amazing is that you forced LemoUtan to pick three of clubs a full eight hours before you even performed the trick. This magic stuff is way over my head.

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It’s… MAGIC!

When watching magic, you have to let go. I think we all know there is no actual magic, no supernatural force, and no tiny demons moving things around for the magician. It’s all sleight of hand, misdirection, forces and gimmicks.

You can choose to be surprised and amazed by it, or let that critical mind kick in, and instead of being wowed by the trick, you can be wowed by the masterful presentation of the trick. There are thousands (maybe millions) of videos of magic on youtube, and each one displays varying levels of skill. You can pause and rewind and review, capture the action in HD and then click, frame-by-frame to see how it was done, or see if you can see how it was done. Marvel at someone so skilled in their work that even if you know exactly how and exactly when the ‘trick’ is performed, you still can’t see it. They’re that good. As a young adult I spent hours in magic shops, watching staff and customer alike performing, discussing and trading their secrets. Knowing how some of my favorites were performed increased my appreciation. Purchasing a few high-quality tricks pushed that appreciation further. The best tricks rely not on pure gimmick, but on well-made props and LOTS AND LOTS OF PRACTICE! Standing for hours in front of mirror, getting first to the point that the card you palmed isn’t visible, and then for hours more trying to make it look natural. Then for hours more to make making it look natural look natural. And then for even longer to keep a running patter while making natural look natural.
And then, when you think you have it, you realize that your audience won’t be just the person in front of you, but perhaps a few others gathered round, and now you have to start over, getting that natural look for multiple angles, simultaneously.

But what this article is less directly about, is using the tricks that magicians learn, the psychological tricks, in other areas of life. In sales, in the art of political persuasion, in asking an acquaintance to loan you $5, and getting them to feel good about it.

That speed you talk about is an important part of the process. Notice in forces that the magician works quickly up to the moment of the force, then slows down to let the spectator regain ‘control’, to recover the feeling that they were in control. Some of the most amazing forces don’t even let on when they occur. So at the moment they think they are making their decision, it’s been made for several seconds, or won’t be made for several seconds more. So they control perception of time as well as perception of freedom of action.

If that’s not amazing, go watch videos of space travel, because I don’t care who you are, that’s amazing.

I too was into performing magic as a kid (well, the best I could). I loved visited magic shops, bought tricks, practiced, and put on occasional shows. It was indeed lots of fun and I truly enjoyed that time. As I grew up, I lost interest, and now the stuff frankly turns me off. But hey, some like it and some don’t as with everything in life. Your enthusiasm is awesome and I applaud that. If you do a good job with magic, I’m sure you are entertaining people and spreading happiness - and that’s gold.

I’m not sure if perhaps your comments are partly in response to what I said earlier, “…I can’t imagine experiencing a trick like this without critical faculty kicking in, and realizing that a trick deck must have flashed the card I chose. How could you not think that?” By this I’m intending to say it’s a natural and automatic response for me and not something that I can suspend, and that I strongly suspect I’m not the only cat in the room thinking that way. We are who we are.

[quote=“Barnabus, post:7, topic:54720, full:true”]
You say they think they’ve seen the entire deck? How do you know that? Do they claim having seen other cards? How do you know they’re not thinking, “Well the only card I can remember seeing is the Ten of Hearts.” [/quote]

If the participants knew they had seen only one card, they wouldn’t be surprised at the reveal. But they are surprised – because they think they’ve seen more than they actually have.

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