A new study has shed light on a subconscious tactic that magicians may use to deceive their audience. The experiment published in the magazine The psychology of consciousness: theory, research, and practice, It was found that magicians increase their blinking eyes when performing difficult tricks. The researchers suggest that this tactic could be used to encourage simultaneous blinking in an audience, so spectators are more likely to miss deceptive actions.
Witches are known to manipulate the consciousness of their fans. In 2016, a study by Wiseman and Nakano found that spectators display simultaneous flashes while watching magic tricks, especially during moments when the magician performs secret actions. This suggests that magicians may misdirect the audience by encouraging them to blink—and thus dilute their attention—during moments of deception.
While this manipulation technique sounds impressive, there is some concern that the blinking wizard’s behavior could lead to his demise. Study author Anthony S. Barnhart and colleagues show that magicians often practice their tricks in front of a mirror, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they have a habit of blinking while practicing deception.
“Before I became a scientist, I was a professional magician,” explained Barnhart, associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Carthage College. “My experience as a magical performer has shown me how fallible human perception and memory can be, so as a psychiatrist I often turn to witches as a source of yet untested insights into the mind. When learning magic, I have been warned of the tendency of witches to blink their eyes while performing wit. The hand is at rehearsal in front of the mirror, thus blinding themselves to any evidence of their competence (or lack thereof) by deceptive action.
“I decided to look for empirical evidence for this behavior after going through the literature on self-deception and realizing this evidence to support the existence of deep self-deception (where a person knows the truth and actively pushes that fact out of their consciousness) was scant. If I find evidence for this flashy behavior in witches, It would be the first solid evidence of deep self-deception in the literature.”
To explore this possibility, the researchers recruited a sample of 11 witches who had been practicing witchcraft anywhere between six months and 50 years. Witches watch a magic coin trick tutorial that includes 10 skillful hand movements – a term used for skillful hand movements used to deceive onlookers. A week later, the magicians were photographed performing the magic trick four times – twice in rehearsal in front of a mirror and twice in a performance setting in front of a video camera.
The researchers analyzed footage of each performance and determined which frames the magicians were practicing sleight of hand (experimental frames) or not engaging in sleight of hand (control frames). Then they coded these frames, noting whether the participants’ eyes were open or closed. Finally, they performed an analysis to see if participants’ blink differed as a function of condition (exercise versus performance) and frame type (experimental versus control).
The results revealed that the magicians increased their blinking at the moments when they were practicing deception (ie, within experimental settings). However, contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, this was true only in the case of the performers, when the magicians performed the trick for the video audience. Other evidence revealed that magicians blinked frequently when performing the most difficult deceptions – suggesting that their blink rates increase with cognitive effort.
Barnhart and colleagues say their findings suggest that magicians’ blinking during acts of deception did not work to deceive performers about their competence. They suggest instead that he worked to encourage the audience to blink as well, helping magicians to conceal their secret actions.
“While the magician participants blinked their eyes more when doing a stunt than not, this tendency was increased in the mirrorless performance environment compared to the rehearsal setting with a mirror,” Barnhart explained to PsyPost. “This was surprising and did not match the predictions of the wizarding world. Our pattern of results points to a potentially interesting phenomenon: we suggest that magicians may close their eyes when practicing sleight of hand to encourage their audience to do the same, thus blinding the public to any evidence of a magician’s tricks” .
Notably, eye blinks tend to occur during moments when visual information is scarce. If the magician increases his blink rate, this may indicate to the audience that there is nothing important to see. “Although blinking during a performance can serve as ‘telling’ to the audience, it may also provide an alert to the audience that they have reached a moment when there is very little useful information in the visual,” the authors explained.
An important limitation of the study was that the researchers were only able to recruit a small sample of witches due to the challenging nature of the experiment. However, a large amount of data was collected from each participant, with the researchers analyzing an average of 9,339 video frames for each magician.
Our interpretation of this surprising pattern of results is post customOur actual experience does not know the source of this pattern. However, the pattern is consistent with findings from the flicker entertainment literature, which shows that media viewers are inclined to attract their flickers to those of the speaker if they are processing narrative content. Research should explore futuristic whether a magician’s blinking behaviors influence the blinking behaviors of his audience, and thus audiences’ perceptions of magic.”
This work is published in a special section of The psychology of consciousness: theory, research, and practice Edited by the leadership of the Science of Magic Association, an organization that promotes rigorous research directed toward understanding the nature, function, and underlying mechanisms of magic,” added Barnhart. “I encourage readers to follow the group’s activities at https://scienceofmagicassoc.org/.”
The study, “Tactical Flashing in Witches: A Tool for Self- and Other-Deception,” authored by Anthony S. Barnhart, Caitlin Richardson, and Sean Eric.