Magic and Perception



“Reality seems so simple. We just open our eyes and there it is. But that doesn’t mean it is simple” Famed magician Teller say of the group Penn and Teller. Magic for instance is more than mere entertainment not just smoke and mirrors. The tricks they use mess with our everyday view and ideas of perception. Magic works by manipulating our awareness since our brains aren’t wired to see everything with so much going on.  Many are successful at diverting our attention and tap into our shortcomings in vision and awareness. How aware are we? As our textbook states “perception is the gateway to all of the other cognitions” therefor perception is key and allows us to make sense of reality. Could we use the principles of magic to study disorders involving attention, social deficits, or even memory? By using techniques such as misdirection, illusion or forcing magicians can help others map new areas of brain function.

Magicians could help provide a better understanding of some neurological diseases even their causes. Those with Autism, lacking social cues will tend to look exactly where the magician doesn’t want them to look. Also autistic patients for example have a hard time gazing directly at others but with the help of magic tricks such as misdirection, we could study the visual attention and how it effects their brains in order to research new methods of treatment.  Inattentional Blindness is a trick many magicians use to trick one’s cogitative mind. The magician will focus the groups attention on let’s say a ball and you have to keep your eye on the ball bouncing.  At that point something else could happen and a normal person wouldn’t see it. They would be focused on the ball. However someone with autism would see the other cue.

Another popular trick of magicians is called memory illusions. With this we could use this type of illusions to study specific memory loss in patients with dementia or other forms of cognitive decline.  We could use such methods to reproduce the neurons mapping in memory and false-memory areas. Other neurological disorders, like that of motor impairment, could also potentially benefit from magic’s inclusion in rehabilitation therapy. Those patients suffering from motor impairment issues could benefit from the repetitive nature of these types of tricks and could also provide possible alternatives for relearning muscle movement.

The tricks used by magicians are informed by brain research and have the potential to further illuminate the biology of human cognition and perception. By understanding how magicians “hack” the brain, scientists could have a new opportunity to study brain function.




Goldstein, E. (2011) Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience, Third Edition. Belmont, CA. Cengage Learning

JAMES, SUSAN DONALDSON: Autism Study Could Find Answers in Magic-

“Science of magic – understanding human cognition and perception”-

Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research-


4 thoughts on “Magic and Perception

  1. Elizabeth Noelle Foster

    The aspect of magic and perception is interesting in itself, but I enjoyed the extra element of discussing autism and memory-impaired patients. As I’ve worked with children while volunteering with summer camps and Girl Scout activities, I’ve also encountered those with special needs, and trying to dissuade an autistic child from a task they’re focused on is near impossible. They don’t respond to normal stimulus and once they’re concentrated on something, it’s intensive. I imagine this makes a magician’s work incredibly difficult if not wholly ineffective. I never thought about it in terms of dementia patients or those that are cognitively impaired, however. When I think of magic, I think of illusion tricks like sawing a woman in half, but I often forget the “remember your card” tricks. It’s an interesting proposal to use this as therapy for these patients whereas autistic patients will simply not comprehend the bending of perception for others. Though it may not be able to rehabilitate autistic patients the same way, could this be a way to help diagnose autism? Is a test of perception already a credential for testing for autism, or is this simply another example of cognitively-impaired behavior? Very thought-provoking post.

  2. pnm5041

    Magic has always been something i have been interested in because i never can understand what the magician is doing to trick me. I really think these tricks can help researchers learn more about certain disorders/diseases like you have stated. I wonder if you could tell someone was autistic, without knowing, just by how they respond. Or maybe certain intelligence levels can somehow relate to understanding what the magician is trying to hide. I also think that magic tricks can help with learning about attention, too. For example, someone with Attention Deficit Disorder may have a harder time realizing what is going on because it is harder for them to focus, therefore their perception would be off? What are your thoughts?

  3. jjc5543

    I really found your post very interesting. I think magic and perception are extremely relative to each other and I am glad someone else posted about it. I never thought about autism being almost like the bane to a magician. I found the idea that people with autism don’t normally follow social cue’s to be interesting. Typically a magician tries to direct someone’s attention is one of three ways. Visually, audibly, or psychologically. I am curious whether someone with autism would only ignore the visual cue or psychological and audible cue as well. According to Broadbent’s model, people have a very hard time processing two streams of information as the same time. For instance, when people were asked to listen to two different conversations, they typically were only able to follow one. My assumption would be that you could misdirect someone with autism audibly but not visually. Typically when a magician wants to misdirect someone’s attention away from something, they would cover some kind of move so that the audience’s attention is inside what Posner referred to as the “spotlight”. However, someone with autism might not even have a “spotlight” and just observes everything around them equally without discrimination.

    This is all rather speculative but still rather interesting to think about.

    Broadbent, D. E. (1958). Perception and communication. London: Pergamon Press.

    Posner, M. I. (1980). Orienting of attention. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 32, 3–25.

  4. Erica Yassmine Gant

    I was instantly intrigued when reading your blog. The choice of magic as a topic to be related to perception was an excellent choice. After reading your blog I was inspired to research the group Penn and Teller. After watching a few of their youtube videos I better understood your choice to relate magic to perception.While reading your blog post I was most intrigued by your relation of neurological disease to magic. Prior to this post I had no knowledge of how people with neurological diseases respond to magic shows.

    This blog may have been improved by including more examples or topics from the lesson or book. For example while reading your post Lesson 4 attention came to mind. According to selective attention, we are able to “select particular stimuli from the environment to process at the expense of other stimuli that are present” (PSWC, 2015). What do you think was the hardest part of the Lesson 3’s Blog assignment? Personally I found myself struggling with an interesting topic.


    The Pennsylvania State University. (2015). Lesson 4: Attention. Retrieved from :

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