Preprint Concept Paper Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

On the Cognitive Bases of Illusionism: An Untapped Tool for Brain and Behavioral Research

Version 1 : Received: 31 December 2019 / Approved: 2 January 2020 / Online: 2 January 2020 (04:41:29 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Camí J, Gomez-Marin A, Martínez LM. 2020. On the cognitive bases of illusionism. PeerJ 8:e9712 Camí J, Gomez-Marin A, Martínez LM. 2020. On the cognitive bases of illusionism. PeerJ 8:e9712


Cognitive scientists have paid very little attention to magic as a distinctly human activity capable of creating situations or events that are considered impossible because they violate expectations and conclude with the apparent transgression of well-established cognitive and natural laws. And even though magic techniques appeal to all known cognitive processes from sensing, attention and perception to memory and decision making, the relation between science and magic has so far been mostly unidirectional, with the primary goal of unraveling how magic works. Building up from the deconstruction of a classic magic trick, we provide here a cognitive foundation for the use of magic as a unique and largely untapped research tool to dissect cognitive processes in tasks arguably more natural than those usually exploited in artificial laboratory settings. Magicians can submerge every spectator into the precise experimental protocol they have previously designed, accounting with ease for both circumstantial and social contexts. Magicians do not base the success of their experiments in statistical measures that smear out the individual in favor of an average spectator that we know never exists in the real world. They target each and everyone in the audience and, often, with a complete accomplishment. Magicians deliver their cognitive manipulations in real-time, in tight closed-loop with the audience, and in a single trial (they cannot afford to repeat the trick if it fails). Magic has also an inherent and strong social component, merging the private cognitive processes of each spectator with the group dynamics. Finally, when combined with the wide range of precise measuring and wearable technologies available today, magic paves the way for a road not taken towards real-world cognitive science. We dare to speculate that some of the mysteries of how the brain works may be trapped in the split realities present in each magic effect.


magic; cognition; real-world neuroscience


Social Sciences, Behavior Sciences

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