Entertainment - Talent
By: - at April 24, 2014

15 Ways Magicians Fool Us

Very few members of the general public will watch the performance of a magic trick and know just how it’s done. Everyone wants to know but there are very few people who would ever be able understand just what goes into the process – whether it’s a simple card trick or a spectacular, elaborate stunt.

magic secrets, magician holding hat

While some people might be able to eventually figure out a few of the devices used in order to perform the tricks, there’s very little chance that the average person could ever work out every technique. This is because, behind all the glitz and glamour of every magical ruse, is a precise and often elaborate mix of methods that a magician employs – all which brilliantly exploits human nature and defies logic in its effect.

15)  Anticipation
Typically, people are going to assume that there is only one way to perform a trick. While this is often the case, there are a number of tricks that are more comprehensive. For example, many tricks use a deck of cards to play a guessing game. The magician pulls out a card from the sleeve of his shirt or from another piece of clothing on his body to show the participant and audience which card the participant picked.

antticipation and card tricks magician

The magician often hides a duplicate of each card that is being guessed somewhere on his person. After the participant answers a few questions, meant to tell the magician which card was picked, he simply grabs that card from where he hid it.

card tricks magic magician

14)  Continuity
The woman cut in half trick is a classic magic stunt. It’s so well known that the secret of the trick has long since become public knowledge. That is, there are two women in the box – one whose head you see and the other whose legs you see.

On the other hand, the trick might entail using legs that are fake, which are featured as the woman lowers herself inside the box, creating the illusion that she’s lying down flat. However, in reality, she is simply curling herself up in the top portion of the box.

Description of How the Trick is Commonly Performed:
Description of How the Trick is Commonly Performed woman in box

While many people may know how the act is performed, magicians still perform the trick. That’s because, psychologically, the brain still registers that a woman was cut in half as the magician performs the act using smokescreens, thereby causing the viewer to want to visually make sense of it and meet his need for continuity.

Magician Performing the Infamous Sawing Woman in Half Trick:
Magician Performing the Infamous Sawing Woman in Half Trick

13)  After Image
After image is when your brain sees something for a short time after you last saw it. A common demonstration of this is when someone stares at an image in black, then stares at a white surface and still sees the image a few seconds afterward.

Sleight of Hand Employs After Image in Magic Tricks as Well as in Illegal Shell Games:
Sleight of Hand Employs After Image in Magic Tricks as Well as in Illegal Shell Games
By Holger.Ellgaard via Wikimedia Commons

Magicians will often make use of this technique when it comes to performing tricks that use sleight of hand or which involve the transfer of an item from one hand to another. By using this method, the magician can make you believe that an item is in your hand longer, thereby making it easy for him to make a switch.

Painting of an Early Shell Game Entitled "The Conjurer" by Hieronymus Bosch, 1496-1520:
Painting of an Early Shell Game Entitled "The Conjurer" by Hieronymus Bosch, 1496-1520

Magicians can also make use of an after image when it comes to removing a participant’s watch. When a magician squeezes a participant’s wrist, it will leave an after image that leads the participant to believe that the watch is still on his wrist when, in fact, its’ been removed.

12)  Combining Tricks
Magicians will frequently employ the technique of misdirection by combining tricks. Therefore, the magician will use one trick to “prove” the validity of another one. A common example of this device is seen when a magician levitates an object or person using strings, all which can’t be seen because of the distance between the stage and the audience.

Magician Larry Jones Levitating His Wife Joined by Their Sons:
Magician Larry Jones Levitating His Wife Joined by Their Sons

To prove there are no strings, the magician runs a hoop in the space where the lines are supposedly attached to prove their non-existence. However, he is merely using a clever means of choreography to produce the desired effect.

11)  Moving Spotlight Method
For most people multi-tasking isn’t something that comes easily. The human brain isn’t always adept at focusing on more than one thing at a time. Therefore, magicians make the most of the general public’s inability to concentrate. As a result, they often maintain an audience’s attention by what is known as the moving spotlight method. Using this approach, the magician highlights one specific item or activity, thereby rendering everything else in the surrounding void as insignificant.

Magic Lamp Lit Using Moving Spotlight Method and Smoke Effect as a Result:
Magic Lamp Lit Using Moving Spotlight Method and Smoke Effect as a Result

So, when audience members focus on a particular item or action, they typically won’t look at anything else. This technique allows the magician to make use of illusions or keep the viewer’s mind occupied on one item or movement at a time.

10)  Allowing the Audience to Fool Themselves
Pretty much everyone who watches a magic show wants to know how a trick is performed and will jump at the chance to discover the answer. Magicians are well aware of this fact and will use it to further confuse the curious audience whenever they can.

allowing audience to fool themselves

David P. Abbott (1863 – 1934) was a magician who, in the early 1900s, was known for a trick that involved making a golden ball appear to float around the room. At the end of each show, Abbott would intentionally leave the ball where it could easily be seen. Invariably, whenever given the chance, people would want to test out the ball, only to discover that the sphere was remarkably heavy – in fact, much too heavy for any string to support. Although the trick was performed with a string, the ball that was left behind was, in fact, a decoy.

Magician David P. Abbott and His Famous Golden Ball Routine:
Magician David P. Abbott and His Famous Golden Ball Routine

Therefore, the ball that Abbott used in the trick only weighed about five ounces while the decoy ball weighed a good deal more. In essence then, the audience fooled themselves into thinking that the decoy was the ball used in the trick, thereby validating the wizardry of act.

9)  Misinformation Effect
The misinformation effect is when people are given additional information relating to an event, which then alters their recollection. This technique is often used in tricks were the magician uses cards or in magic acts where members of the audience are asked to remember certain details.

Retroactive Memory Interference Applied to Principles of Misinformation Effect:
Retroactive Memory Interference Applied to Principles of Misinformation Effect
By Catherine Hare via Wikimedia Commons

Magicians commonly use the misinformation technique when they tell a participant to select a card from a 52-card deck. The magician will ask a participant to choose any card but tell him to pick the card from the left side of the deck.

misinformation effect and playing card tricks choosing and memorizing cards

In turn then, the participant is choosing one specific card from half the deck of 26 – the card, of which the conjurer knows the identity. Because people often want to make sense of things, they’re natural inclination is to bypass the notion that they’re being tricked.

8)  Over Investment
Most people, when they view a magic act, like to believe there is a simple explanation for the wizardry. While some tricks can be explained easily, other tricks involve more complexity – that is, more time and effort are put into the performance than what you’d think it’d involve.

Raymond Teller Speaking at The Amazing Meeting 2012 Las Vegas, Nevada:
Raymond Teller Speaking at The Amazing Meeting 2012 Las Vegas, Nevada
By BDEngler via Wikimedia Commons

For instance, years ago, on an appearance on the ‘Late Show with David Letterman’ (1993 – present), magicians Penn & Teller performed a trick where they produced 500 living cockroaches from a top hat that was placed on Letterman’s desk.

Penn Jillette Speaking at The Amazing Meeting Las Vegas, Nevada:
Penn Jillette Speaking at The Amazing Meeting Las Vegas, Nevada
By BDEngler via Wikimedia Commons

In order to pull off the deception, it took the pair several weeks to prepare for the hoax. Not only did they have to hire an entomologist to help them secure the creatures, they also had to build a secret compartment into the hat. The trick ended up taking mere minutes to perform. However, all the preparation that went into setting up the ruse made it difficult for anyone to determine how the trick was performed.

Often fortune tellers or psychic mediums as they are more popularly known as today, employ this technique to appear as if they have read something from just randomly looking at one of their audience members. Most of the time these performances have been scripted or there has been significant research and almost espionage is conducted by their respective production teams.

modern fortune teller or occultist or mentalist

This is done so that the medium can appear as if they can read everything about a random person just by looking at them just by focusing their mental energy.

7)  Laughter
The objective of a magician is to entertain. While humor is often incorporated into a magic act, it’s not necessarily used for sake of entertainment alone. Rather, when it comes to magic, laughter is a very powerful tool. Almost invariably, magicians will systematically insert jokes into their act with careful precision.

laughter as a tool for magic and magicians

Therefore, jokes are usually supplied as a means of distraction and are used during a crucial move in the act. Laughter serves to keep audience members preoccupied so they don’t see any small actions the illusionist makes.

6)  Memory Prediction Framework
Memory Prediction Framework is when we have seen something thousands of times and our brains remember and expect it to always happen. For example, when we see a ball thrown into the air, we naturally expect it to come back down, just as we have seen it happen time and time again.

Raymond Teller Performs the Cup and Ball Trick:
Raymond Teller Performs the Cup and Ball Trick

Therefore, an interesting thing happens when memory prediction framework is employed. Because you expect something to occur, you may not realize that it didn’t happen, as you thought, at all. As a result, “sorcerers” exploit this method regularly to fool audience members. For example, when you see a magician place a ball in a cup, you instantly think it will re-emerge. When what you anticipate does not occur, it creates an impression that leaves you in disbelief.

5)  Change Blindness
Change Blindness is used for an illusory effect in magic tricks. When we look at something which changes, but the alteration is barely noticeable, the brain does not register the difference, and it’s perceived as being insignificant. Unless you’re looking for a specific change, you won’t be able to see any differences visually in a magic act.

See if You Can Spot the Differences in This Photograph:
See if You Can Spot the Differences in This Photograph
By WikiCantona via Wikimedia Commons

4)  Pattern Recognition
Pattern Recognition is a technique that magicians exploit to great effect. For example, there’s a classic coin trick that highlights this kind of illusory device. In the trick, the magician hands over four coins, one after another, with the back of his hand facing the participant. The magician will then show the onlooker that the palm of his hand is empty, before handing over yet another final coin. Because of the pattern that was established, the onlooker perceives that all of the coins were produced from an empty hand when, in reality, the magician only made it look like his hand was empty before he produced the last coin. The first four coins were not produced before the trickster displayed an empty palm Nevertheless, the audience will still interpret that all five coins appeared magically from the magician’s bare hand, all due to this illusory device.

Street Magician Performing the Coin Trick Finale:
Street Magician Performing the Coin Trick Finale Pattern Recognition magic

In the previous section dealing with change blindness, the difference between the two photographs was that the one on the left featured people walking towards the left-center of the frame as well as a tower towards the left background. 

3)  Charm
Charm is another way the magician distracts his audience. In fact, using such devices, as charisma and charm, will significantly impact the thoughts of the audience. That’s because this kind of social interaction will trigger the release of Oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone.

magic hat charm magicians' tools magician magic tricks

By utilizing this approach then, the magician can deflect an audience’s attention so they don’t look at him as critically nor the moves he’s making in his act.

2)  Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance is used by magicians so viewers will find justification for what they’ve just seen. Magicians use this technique in tricks to display a reality which overrides what viewers perceive to be true.

Cognitive Dissonance and magic shows
By Tesseract2 via Wikimedia Commons

As a result, audience members are unable to make sense of what they just witnessed and are awed by the event.

1)  Exogenous Attentional Capture
We all love experiencing new things. Whenever we spot something new and exciting then, we can’t help but not notice it – and may even fixate on it. Exogenous Attentional Capture (EAC) is a subliminal device used by magicians to grand effect.

Lance Burton Uses Many Animated Gestures and is Very Active During His Show:
Lance Burton Uses Many Animated Gestures and is Very Active During His Show

Therefore, EAC is often employed when the magician pulls rabbits or birds from his shirt or hat. Magicians will also make use of EAC for diverting the audience’s attention. For example, he may use fast and elaborate hand movements to draw the audience’s attention away from some activity he doesn’t want the audience to notice or see.

When it comes down to it, magic is really an intricate and elaborate art form. Like all creative fields, some individuals are more adept at utilizing the various aspects that make up the art.

While there are a variety of styles employed in magic tricks, all which are used to excite, engage, and confuse members in an audience, the complexity of the devices used and human nature will make magic an art form that will be enjoyed for many years yet to come.





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