The Kinematics of Misdirection

As a long-time (terrible) amateur magician, I’m endlessly fascinated by magical techniques, especially misdirection. A new PLoS One study of the kinematics of misdirection caught my eye, so to speak:

The Magic Grasp: Motor Expertise in Deception

Background

Most of us are poor at faking actions. Kinematic studies have shown that when pretending to pick up imagined objects (pantomimed actions), we move and shape our hands quite differently from when grasping real ones. These differences between real and pantomimed actions have been linked to separate brain pathways specialized for different kinds of visuomotor guidance. Yet professional magicians regularly use pantomimed actions to deceive audiences.

Methodology and Principal Findings

In this study, we tested whether, despite their skill, magicians might still show kinematic differences between grasping actions made toward real versus imagined objects. We found that their pantomimed actions in fact closely resembled real grasps when the object was visible (but displaced) (Experiment 1), but failed to do so when the object was absent (Experiment 2).

Conclusions and Significance

We suggest that although the occipito-parietal visuomotor system in the dorsal stream is designed to guide goal-directed actions, prolonged practice may enable it to calibrate actions based on visual inputs displaced from the action.

Related posts:

  1. Teller Talks: The Art of Misdirection
  2. Freeman Dyson on “The Information”
  3. Lifehacker Uber Alles
  4. [T] Niall Ferguson (2003) vs Niall Ferguson (2010)
  5. Milgram Musing: Repeating History, etc.