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Concept: Magic


Every day, thousands of polls, surveys, and rating scales are employed to elicit the attitudes of humankind. Given the ubiquitous use of these instruments, it seems we ought to have firm answers to what is measured by them, but unfortunately we do not. To help remedy this situation, we present a novel approach to investigate the nature of attitudes. We created a self-transforming paper survey of moral opinions, covering both foundational principles, and current dilemmas hotly debated in the media. This survey used a magic trick to expose participants to a reversal of their previously stated attitudes, allowing us to record whether they were prepared to endorse and argue for the opposite view of what they had stated only moments ago. The result showed that the majority of the reversals remained undetected, and a full 69% of the participants failed to detect at least one of two changes. In addition, participants often constructed coherent and unequivocal arguments supporting the opposite of their original position. These results suggest a dramatic potential for flexibility in our moral attitudes, and indicates a clear role for self-attribution and post-hoc rationalization in attitude formation and change.

Concepts: Addition, Change, Morality, Social psychology, Argument, Magic, Reversal, Arguments


The use of computational systems to aid in the design of magic tricks has been previously explored. Here further steps are taken in this direction, introducing the use of computer technology as a natural language data sourcing and processing tool for magic trick design purposes. Crowd sourcing of psychological concepts is investigated; further, the role of human associative memory and its exploitation in magical effects is explored. A new trick is developed and evaluated: a physical card trick partially designed by a computational system configured to search for and explore conceptual spaces readily understood by spectators.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Artificial intelligence, Computer, Logic, Computing, Playing card, Magic


Forcing occurs when a magician influences the audience’s decisions without their awareness. To investigate the mechanisms behind this effect, we examined several stimulus and personality predictors. In Study 1, a magician flipped through a deck of playing cards while participants were asked to choose one. Although the magician could influence the choice almost every time (98%), relatively few (9%) noticed this influence. In Study 2, participants observed rapid series of cards on a computer, with one target card shown longer than the rest. We expected people would tend to choose this card without noticing that it was shown longest. Both stimulus and personality factors predicted the choice of card, depending on whether the influence was noticed. These results show that combining real-world and laboratory research can be a powerful way to study magic and can provide new methods to study the feeling of free will.

Concepts: Free will, Playing card, Magic, Audience, Tarot, Card game, Magician, Escapology


We investigated an individual ability to identify whether choices were made freely or forced by external parameters. We capitalized on magical setups where the notion of psychological forcing constitutes a well trodden path. In live stage magic, a magician guessed cards from spectators while inquiring how freely they thought they had made the choice. Our data showed a marked blindness in the introspection of free choice. Spectators assigned comparable ratings when choosing the card that the magician deliberately forced them compared to any other card, even in classical forcing, where the magician literally handles a card to the participant This observation was paralleled by a laboratory experiment where we observed modest changes in subjective reports by factors with drastic effect in choice. Pupil dilatation, which is known to tag slow cognitive events related to memory and attention, constitutes an efficient fingerprint to index subjective and objective aspects of choice.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Thought, Free will, Choice, Playing card, Magic


Traditionally, research on superstition and magical thinking has focused on people’s cognitive shortcomings, but superstitions are not limited to individuals with mental deficits. Even smart, educated, emotionally stable adults have superstitions that are not rational. Dual process models-such as the corrective model advocated by Kahneman and Frederick (2002, 2005), which suggests that System 1 generates intuitive answers that may or may not be corrected by System 2-are useful for illustrating why superstitious thinking is widespread, why particular beliefs arise, and why they are maintained even though they are not true. However, to understand why superstitious beliefs are maintained even when people know they are not true requires that the model be refined. It must allow for the possibility that people can recognize-in the moment-that their belief does not make sense, but act on it nevertheless. People can detect an error, but choose not to correct it, a process I refer to as acquiescence. The first part of the article will use a dual process model to understand the psychology underlying magical thinking, highlighting features of System 1 that generate magical intuitions and features of the person or situation that prompt System 2 to correct them. The second part of the article will suggest that we can improve the model by decoupling the detection of errors from their correction and recognizing acquiescence as a possible System 2 response. I suggest that refining the theory will prove useful for understanding phenomena outside of the context of magical thinking. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Magic, Luck, Superstition, Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Religious belief, Magic in the Greco-Roman world


So far inferences on early moral development and higher order self conscious emotions have mostly been based on behavioral data. Emotions though, as far as arguments support, are multidimensional notions. Not only do they involve behavioral actions upon perception of an event, but they also carry autonomic physiological markers. The current study aimed to examine and characterise physiological signs that underlie self-conscious emotions in early childhood, while grounding them on behavioral analyses. For this purpose, the “mishap paradigm” was used as the most reliable method for evoking feelings of “guilt” in children and autonomic facial temperature variation were detected by functional Infrared Imaging (fIRI). Fifteen children (age: 39-42 months) participated in the study. They were asked to play with a toy, falsely informed that it was the experimenter’s “favourite”, while being unaware that it was pre-planned to break. Mishap of the toy during engagement caused sympathetic arousal as shown by peripheral nasal vasoconstriction leading to a marked temperature drop, compared to baseline. Soothing after the mishap phase induced an increase in nose temperature, associated with parasympathetic activity suggesting that the child’s distress was neutralized, or even overcompensated. Behavioral analyses reported signs of distress evoked by the paradigm, backing up the thermal observation. The results suggest that the integration of physiological elements should be crucial in research concerning socio-emotional development. fIRI is a non invasive and non contact method providing a powerful tool for inferring early moral emotional signs based on physiological observations of peripheral vasoconstriction, while preserving an ecological and natural context.

Concepts: Childhood, Autonomic nervous system, Epinephrine, Sympathetic nervous system, Logic, Parasympathetic nervous system, Thermography, Magic


In three studies we found that reading information in a foreign language can suppress common superstitious beliefs. Participants read scenarios either in their native or a foreign language. In each scenario, participants were asked to imagine performing an action (e.g., submitting a job application) under a superstitious circumstance (e.g., broken mirror; four-leaf clover) and to rate how they would feel. Overall, foreign language prompted less negative feelings towards bad-luck scenarios, less positive feelings towards good-luck scenarios, while it exerted no influence on non-superstitious, control scenarios. We attribute these findings to language-dependent memory. Superstitious beliefs are typically acquired and used in contexts involving the native language. As a result, the native language evokes them more forcefully than a foreign language.

Concepts: Second language, Reason, Magic, Luck, Superstition, Magic in the Greco-Roman world


Lecturers often present entertaining videos, or organize a variety of amusing demonstrations, to foster student engagement or to encourage critical analysis. Magic tricks, in particular, have been shown to activate neural circuits that underpin motivation or problem-solving and, therefore, could be beneficial during lectures. Nevertheless, we hypothesize that, unless the method that underpins these tricks is revealed, students may ruminate over possible explanations, distracting attention from the lecture material.

Concepts: Scientific method, Method acting, Educational psychology, University, Student, Lecture, Entertainment, Magic


Magical thinking, or illogical causal reasoning such as superstitions, decreases across childhood, but almost no data speak to whether this developmental trajectory continues across the life span. In four experiments, magical thinking decreased across adulthood. This pattern replicated across two judgment domains and could not be explained by age-related differences in tolerance of ambiguity, domain-specific knowledge, or search for meaning. These data complement and extend findings that experience, accumulated over decades, guides older adults' judgments so that they match, or even exceed, young adults' performance. They also counter participants' expectations, and cultural sayings (e.g., “old wives' tales”), that suggest that older adults are especially superstitious. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Critical thinking, Causality, Cognition, Concepts in metaphysics, Reasoning, Reason, Magic, Post hoc ergo propter hoc


Second-order conditioning (SOC; i.e., conditioned responding to S2 as a result of S1-US pairings followed by S2-S1 pairings) is generally explained by either a direct S2→US association or by an associative chain (i.e., S2→S1→US). Previous research found that differences in responses to S2 after S1 was extinguished often depended on the nature of the S2-S1 pairings (i.e., sequential or simultaneous). In two experiments with human participants, we examined the possibility that such differences result from S1 evoking S2 during extinction of S1 following simultaneous but not sequential S2-S1 pairings. This evocation of S2 by S1 following simultaneous pairings may have paired the evoked representation of S2 with absence of the outcome, thereby facilitating mediated extinction of S2. Using sequential S2-S1 pairings, both Experiments 1 and 2 failed to support this account of how extinction of S1 reduced responding to S2. Experiment 1 found that extinguishing S1 reduced responding to S2, while extinguishing S2 had little effect on responses to S1, although forward evocation of S1 during extinction of S2 paired the evoked representation of S1 with absence of the outcome. In Experiment 2, evocation of S2 during S1 nonreinforced trials was prevented because S2-S1 pairings followed (rather than proceeded) S1-alone exposures. Nevertheless, responding to S2 at test mimicked S1 responding. Responding to S2 was high in the context in which S1 had been reinforced and low in the context in which S1 had been nonreinforced. Collectively, these experiments provide additional support for the associative-chain account of SOC.

Concepts: Causality, Magic, Evocation