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Chapter 33
DON’T LOOK NOW: THE MAGIC OF MISDIRECTION
BENJAMIN W. TATLER
University of Dundee
GUSTAV KUHN
University of Durham
Eye Movements: A Window on Mind and Brain
Edited by R. P. G. van Gompel, M. H. Fischer, W. S. Murray and R. L. Hill
Copyright © 2007 by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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698 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
Abstract
How do magicians misdirect their audiences? We recorded eye movements as observers
watched a magician perform a trick on a live one-to-one basis. All observers watched the
trick twice. Half of the observers were informed in advance that they would be watching
a trick; half were not. Observers tended to follow the magician’s gaze, particularly in
the second half of the trick. Even informed observers were susceptible to the magician’s
social cues for joint attention, following his gaze during the trick. While knowing that
they would be watching a trick was not sufficient for observers to defeat the magician’s
misdirection, watching the trick a second time was; all observers were able to describe
how the magician made a cigarette disappear after viewing the trick a second time.
Our findings not only demonstrate an everyday example of inattentional blindness, but
also that social cues for joint attention provide the magician with a powerful means of
misdirecting his audience successfully.
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 699
Picture this: you are at a magic show and the magician announces that he is going to
make a donkey appear behind a curtain in the middle of the stage. He walks to the curtain,
which is lying on the floor, and raises it above his head. A moment later he drops the
curtain to the ground to reveal a real live donkey behind it, to the amazement of you and
the rest of the audience. How can the magician have performed such an impressive trick?
Now let us watch the trick again to reveal its secret: when the magician raises the
curtain above his head, his glamorous (and probably scantily clad) assistant walks across
the front of the stage. As they do this, the magician replaces the curtain on the floor,
walks to the side of the stage, collects a donkey and drags it over behind the curtain.
The magician raises the curtain again and waits for his moment to drop it to reveal the
‘magically appeared’ donkey. You are somewhat less impressed. Surely this is not the
same trick? Surprisingly, it is exactly as it was performed the first time. How could it be
that you missed such an obvious act as the magician walking over to drag a donkey on
stage?
Ridiculous though it may seem, this illustrates the way in which many magic tricks
are performed: the magician diverts the observers by directing their attention to a dis-
tracting act, while at the same time performing what would be an otherwise obvious
act (see Lamont & Wiseman, 1999). Magicians have for many years accomplished their
misdirection by combining processes that psychologists have learnt about only recently:
our tendency to look where others look – social attention – and our inability to spot
rather obvious events under certain circumstances – change blindness and inattentional
blindness.
The fallibility of our visual sense in detecting unexpected events has become the
focus of particular interest in recent years. Observers can fail to notice what would
seem otherwise to be a very large change to a complex scene provided that change is
accompanied by a brief interruption to viewing (for a review, see Rensink, 2002). These
changes can include changing the colour of an object, moving it to another position in
the scene or removing it completely. Our surprising inability to detect seemingly obvious
changes has become known as change blindness, and can be observed when changes are
made during an eye movement (e.g., Grimes, 1996; McConkie & Currie, 1996), a blink
(e.g., O’Regan, Deubel, Clark, & Rensink, 2000), or an artificial flicker of the image
(Rensink, O’Regan, & Clark, 1995, 1997, 2000).
However, it is not only abrupt changes occurring during periods where the scene is
occluded that can go unnoticed by observers. Unexpected events, lasting for several
seconds, can occur in full view of an observer and yet not be detected. Professional
pilots can fail to notice an aeroplane across the runway in a simulator and go on to land
through it (Haines, 1991). Observers watching teams pass a basketball to each other can
fail to notice a person in a gorilla suit (Simons & Chabris, 1999) or a woman carrying
an umbrella (Neisser, 1967) walk through the midst of the players. Such failure to detect
unexpected events that occur in full view has become known as inattentional blindness
(see Mack & Rock, 1998), and is thought to arise because attention has been allocated to
a particular task and subset of objects in the visual display.
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700 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
An important concern in studies of change blindness and inattentional blindness has
been to relate these phenomena to everyday vision and to consider their implications
for how vision operates normally (see Most, Scholl, Clifford & Simons, 2005, for a
similar position). Researchers have attempted to devise more realistic situations in which
to explore these phenomena (e.g., Levin & Simons, 1997; Simons & Levin, 1998).
However, even these situations remain somewhat removed from ‘normal’ experience. A
more familiar situation in which these phenomena can be studied, and one that many of
us have experienced, is magic. The misdirection employed by magicians in many of their
tricks parallels inattentional blindness paradigms; it occurs seemingly in full view of the
observer, yet is not noticed.
For the magician to be successful, the audience must be misdirected when the crucial
part of the trick is performed. How does the magician do this? From an early age our
attention is strongly influenced by other people. This tendency to attend to locations
indicated by others is known as shared (or joint) attention (e.g., Tomasello, 1995, 1999).
A particularly strong cue for shared attention is where somebody else is looking; we show
a strong and somewhat automatic tendency to follow someone else’s gaze (e.g., Driver
et al., 1999; Langton, Watt, & Bruce, 2000; Scaife & Bruner, 1975; Triesch, Teuscher,
Deák, & Carlson, 2006). Indeed, under certain conditions people automatically imitate
another person’s gaze (Ricciardelli, Bricolo, Aglioti, & Chelazzi, 2002). Perhaps this is
how the magician misdirects us? If social cues strongly influence how we direct our
attention, then doing something as simple as looking away from the act that the magician
wishes to conceal, might be enough to make us attend to the wrong location and so miss
an act that otherwise would have been obvious.
In this chapter we consider the details of how a magician (the second author, GK)
achieves his misdirection when performing a simple magic trick. The way in which the
trick was performed will now be described.
1. Our magic trick
We developed a trick in which the magician made a cigarette and lighter ‘disappear’.
The trick was performed ‘live’ by the magician, in front of the observer, on a one-to-one
basis.
Figure 1 shows the typical progress of the trick. Facing the observer, the magician
asks if they would mind if he smokes. He looks at and reaches for the cigarette packet
and removes a cigarette. While moving the cigarette towards his mouth with one hand
(the ‘cigarette hand’), he turns to look at the lighter and reaches for this with his other
hand (the ‘lighter hand’). The cigarette is deliberately placed in the mouth the wrong way
around. The magician then brings the lighter up to attempt to light the cigarette. There
then follows the first misdirection by the magician. ‘Noticing’ that the cigarette is the
wrong way around, the magician turns his head to the side, removes the cigarette and
turns it around to replace it. Throughout this manoeuvre the magician keeps his gaze fixed
on the cigarette and the hand manipulating it. While performing this manipulation of the
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 701
0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0 7.0 8.0 9.0
0.0
Magician’s
gaze
Look
ahead
“Do you
mind if I
smoke?”
Pick up
cigarette
pack
Take cigarette from pack
Look to cigarette pack Look to where lighter
is on table
Place cigarette in
mouth/
pick up lighter
Look to cigarette in mouth/
lighter hand
Light cigarette
lighter
Look at
cigarette hand
as turn
cigarette
Look at (empty)
lighter hand
Look at (empty) cigarette
hand
Look
ahead
Look at cigarette
hand and lighter
hand as pretend
to light up
Drop lighter/turn
around cigarette
Pretend to
light cigarette/
move lighter
hand to side
Open
empty
lighter
hand
Drop
cigarette
Bring cigarette
hand up to face
Open
cigarette hand
to reveal no
cigarette
Magician’s
actions
1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0 7.0 8.0 9.0
Figure 1. The trick used in the present study. Top row: Images illustrating various points of the trick. Middle row: Where the magician was looking. The
start of the magician’s gaze event corresponds to when the magician began his head turn towards that target. Bottom row: What the magician was doing. The
numbered vertical lines indicate time (in seconds) from the start of the trick. Timings of the magician’s actions and gaze are the average of all trials recorded
in this study.
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702 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
cigarette, the magician lowers his other hand, holding the lighter, towards the tabletop
and drops the lighter onto his knees. The magician then brings his (now empty) hand back
up to his face, while turning his head back towards the observer. He attempts to light the
(now correctly positioned) cigarette and makes a show of being surprised that the lighter
is no longer in his hand. This surprise is used to accomplish the second misdirection of
this trick. Upon ‘noticing’ that the lighter is no longer in his hand, the magician turns
his head to the side, raises his (now empty) lighter hand and opens it while looking at
it. At the same time, the magician lowers his other hand, which is holding the cigarette,
towards the tabletop. When it is near the tabletop, the magician drops the cigarette onto
his knees. When dropped, the cigarette is usually about 10–15 cm above the tabletop and
is therefore dropped in full view of the observer, visible for about 140 ms of its drop
(calculated from the video records of the trick – see below). Shortly after he opens his
empty lighter hand, the magician brings the now empty cigarette hand back up toward
his face and turns to look at it, feigning surprise that the cigarette has also ‘disappeared’.
Finally, the magician turns back to face the observer (a video clip of this trick can be
viewed online at http://www.dur.ac.uk/gustav.kuhn/.)
2. The present study
In a previous report, we considered whether the success of the magician’s misdirection at
the time of the cigarette drop in the above trick was dependent upon an overt misdirection
of the eyes or a covert misdirection of attention (Kuhn & Tatler, 2005). In general,
observers failed to spot how the trick was performed when they watched it for the first
time, but all spotted how it was done when they watched the magician perform the
trick for a second time. Detecting the cigarette drop was not dependent upon where the
observer was fixating as it dropped; on trials where the drop was spotted, observers were
still often fixating the lighter hand (as would be predicted for a successful misdirection).
This result implied that it was the deployment of covert visual attention rather than overt
gaze that determined whether the observer detected the cigarette drop.
One question raised by the Kuhn and Tatler study is how the magician achieves
his misdirection. By considering the relationship between the magician’s gaze and the
observer’s gaze we can evaluate the role of social cues (shared or joint attention) during
the trick and whether these form the basis for the magician’s success at misdirection. Each
participant watched the magician perform the trick twice. This allowed us to consider
whether different gaze strategies are employed to observe the trick for the second time.
Performing the trick a second time also allows us to consider whether the observer can
overcome the normal tendency for joint attention and not attend to the locations intended
by the magician. We divided our participants into two groups: half were told before
the experiment that they were about to watch a magic trick in which a cigarette and
lighter would be made to disappear and that they should try to work out how this was
done. The remaining observers did not know that they were about to watch a magic
trick. Given that task can have such a profound effect upon where observers fixate when
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 703
viewing static scenes (e.g., Buswell, 1935; Yarbus, 1967), we expected prior knowledge
to have a significant impact upon how observers viewed the performances. We expected
uninformed observers to be more prone to the misdirection and thus follow the magician’s
gaze more closely than informed observers. Our hypothesis for the combined effects of
prior knowledge and repetition is that these two factors will interact such that informed
observers are more able to ignore the magician’s social cues for joint attention and that
both groups are less prone to this misdirection on the second performance of the trick.
3. Procedure
Twenty participants (mean age =2165SD =63) took part in this experiment; half of
whom knew in advance that they were about to watch the trick, half of whom did not.
Each observer saw the trick performed twice.
Eye movements of the observers were recorded while they watched the magic trick,
using Land’s custom-built head-mounted eye-tracker (for details, see Land 1993; Land
& Lee 1994). We defined seven possible gaze target regions: the magician’s face, the
cigarette hand, the cigarette packet, the cigarette, the lighter hand, other positions on
the magician’s body, and other locations in the scene (such as items on the table that
were not related to the trick). Consecutive fixations within a single region were summed
and treated as a single gaze duration. Data from two of the observers were discarded at
this stage due to poor quality of the recorded videos. The direction of the magician’s
gaze was determined from the participant’s eye-movement video record, by observing the
magician’s head movements throughout the performances of the trick. This measure is
crude, but can be used to achieve a reasonably good idea of what the magician is looking
at throughout the trick.
We were interested in how both prior knowledge and repetition of the trick influenced
viewing strategies. Because we did not want to confound our data with any strategic
differences that might arise in association with detecting the cigarette drop, we excluded
the data for the two observers who spotted the cigarette drop on the first performance of
the trick. The others all spotted it on the second performance. Eight of these remaining
observers were previously informed that they would be watching the trick and eight were
uninformed.
Given that the trick was performed live to each observer, it is important to ensure
that there is a reasonable degree of consistency in the way in which this trick was
performed. We divided the trick up into a series of easily identifiable actions carried out
by the magician (depicted in Figure 1) and recorded the time at which these happened
throughout each performance. We found no interaction between performance number (the
two performances of the trick) and the prior knowledge of the observers on the timings of
the actions performed by the magician throughout the trick, F78=0660p=0701.
Similarly, we found no interaction between performance number and the prior knowledge
of the observers on the times at which the magician moved his gaze to each of the targets
depicted in Figure 1 throughout the trick, F78=0436p=0866. Thus, there were no
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704 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
systematic differences in the way that the trick was performed to informed or uninformed
observers or on the first and second performances of the trick to each participant. Thus
any differences in the strategic deployment of gaze by the observers that arise from prior
knowledge or repetition of the trick will not be artefacts of the way in which the trick
was performed.
4. A typical observer
Figure 2 shows the data for one of the uninformed observers watching the first perfor-
mance of the trick. There was a reasonably close association between where the magician
was looking and where the observer fixated. The observer in Figure 2 was successfully
misdirected: she was watching the cigarette (as was the magician) while the lighter was
dropped, and was watching the lighter hand while the cigarette was dropped. We will
now consider how observers’ gaze behaviour throughout the trick and around the time of
these two instances of misdirection is influenced by prior knowledge that they will see
the trick, or by seeing the trick for a second time.
5. Misdirection, prior knowledge, and repetition
One measure of the inspection strategies employed by observers is to consider the total
amount of time spent gazing at each of the possible gaze targets while watching the
trick. Gaze was categorised as having been directed to one of seven possible regions:
the magician’s face, the cigarette hand, the cigarette packet, the cigarette, the lighter
hand, other positions on the magician’s body, and other locations in the scene (such as
items on the desk that were not related to the trick). A three-way mixed design ANOVA
(gaze target region, informed/uninformed, first/second performance) showed a main effect
of gaze target, F69=4981 p<0001. Table 1 summarises the simple pairwise
comparisons between the seven possible gaze target regions. No other main effects were
significant (all p>0462). Observers spent most of their time looking at the magician’s
face and his two hands as might be expected given the nature of the trick.
There was a two-way interaction between gaze target region and the prior knowledge
of the participant, F69=574p=0010 (Figure 3a). Simple pairwise comparisons
showed that informed participants spent longer looking at the magician’s body (other
than his hands and face), p<0001. Given that the magician’s gaze is directed primarily
at either of his hands or at the observer throughout the trial (see Figure 1), fixations of
the magician’s body might represent attempts to avoid being ‘captured’ by the magi-
cian’s misdirection. Because the magician’s body is effectively the centre of the visual
scene throughout the performance, fixating here might also provide an optimal location
for viewing the trick. However, there were no other differences between informed and
uninformed observers (all p>0096), suggesting that any strategic differences between
the two groups of observers were small.
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 705
0.0
Observer’s
gaze
Magician’s
gaze
Magician’s
actions
Face Face
Look to CP
Look ahead Look to where lighter is
on table
Look to cigarette in
mouth/lighter hand
Look at cigarette
hand as turn
cigarette
around
Look at (empty) lighter
hand
Look at (empty) cigarette hand Look
ahead
Open
cigarette hand
to reveal no
cigarette
Open
empty LH
Drop
cigarette
Look to
CP
Look at CH and LH as
pretend to light up
Face
Papers
LH Cigarette
C
P
C
P
CP
C
HFace
CH LH CH CH LH
Face Face
1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 10.0
0.0
Key to abbreviations:
CH = cigarette hand CP = cigarette packet LH = lighter hand
1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 10.0
“Do you
mind if I
smoke?”
Pick
up
CP
Take cigarette from pack Place cigarette in mouth/
pick up lighter
Light
cigarette
lighter
Drop lighter/turn
around cigarette
Pretend to light
cigarette/move lighter
hand to side of face
Bring cigarette hand up
to face
Figure 2. A typical observer. Top row: Where the observer fixated. Middle row: Where the magician looked. Bottom row: What the magician was doing. The
numbered vertical lines indicate time (in seconds) from the start of the trick. This figure demonstrates the similarity between where the magician looks and
where the observer looks. For example, after just under two seconds, the magician turned his head towards the lighter on the table. Approximately one second
later, as the magician reached for the lighter and picked it up, the observer directed her gaze to the hand that the magician was using to pick up the lighter and
both the magician and observer watched this hand as it was brought towards the face.
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706 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
Table 1
Results of simple pairwise comparisons for the total time spent gazing at each of the seven possible gaze targets
when watching the trick. Boldface p-values indicate differences that were significant at the <0050 level. Mean
total gaze time (along with the standard deviation) is given for each target region on the left of the table
Face
Cigarette
hand
Cigarette
packet Cigarette
Lighter
hand Body Other
Face
¯
X=2315, – .346 <0.001 0.004 0.985 <0.001 <0.001
SD =2401
Cigarette hand
¯
X=3056, – – <0.001 <0.001 0.001 <0.001 <0.001
SD =1547
Cigarette pack
¯
X=380, 0.817 0.001 >0999 >0999
SD =1039
Cigarette
¯
X=854, 0.115 0.659 0.030
SD =1491
Lighter hand
¯
X=1575, – – – 0.001 <0.001
SD =1501
Body
¯
X=450, – – – – 0.183
SD =727
Other
¯
X=157, – – – –
SD =637
Gaze target region
(a) (b)
Total gaze time during
performance/ms
0
500
1000
1500
2000
2500
3000
3500
Uninformed observers
Informed observers
Gaze target region
Face CH CP Cigarette LH Body Other
Face CH CP Cigarette LH Body Other
Total gaze time during
performance /ms
0
1000
2000
3000
4000
5000
1st Performance of trick
2nd Performance of trick
p
<
.001
p
=
.004
p
<
.001
Figure 3. (a) Mean total gaze times in each target region (+1 SE) for the informed and uninformed observers.
(b) Mean total gaze times in each target region (+1SE) for the two performances of the trick.
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 707
The only other significant interaction was a two-way interaction between gaze target
region and performance number, F69=369p=0039 (Figure 3b). Simple pairwise
comparisons showed that observers spent more time fixating the magician’s face during
the first performance of the trick than during the second performance, p=0004, and that
they spent more time fixating the cigarette hand during the second performance of the
trick than during the first performance, p<0001. No other pairwise comparisons were
significant (all p>0118). Spending more time looking at the cigarette hand and less
time looking at the magician’s face on the second trial is an entirely plausible strategy
for working out how the magician made the cigarette ‘disappear’.
Our measure of the overall time spent gazing at a region does not account for how gazes
to this region are distributed throughout the performance; for example, the 2.3 s for which
observers watch the cigarette hand (Figure 3a) may be a single gaze at a certain point in
the trick, or may be a series of short gazes to the cigarette hand distributed throughout
the trick. We therefore examined more directly what was fixated at various points in the
performance of the trick and whether this differed according to the prior knowledge of
the observers or whether they were viewing the trick for the first or second time.
Figure 4 shows plots of the allocation of gaze to each of the seven possible gaze target
regions throughout the course of the performance of the trick by all observers. While
informed and uninformed observers were largely similar in the way they watched the
trick, there were some differences. During the first performance, uninformed observers
tended mainly to fixate the cigarette hand only during a period between 2.5 and 4.5 s
into the trick and again at the end of the trick. Looks to the cigarette hand by informed
observers were less clustered around these two time periods, with more looks to the
cigarette hand throughout the middle portions of the trick. This result might suggest
a strategic difference in the way that informed and uninformed observers watched the
trick, with informed observers showing a tendency to monitor the cigarette over a more
extended section of the trick than uninformed observers.
The more striking differences in inspection behaviour arose between the first and
second performances of the trick. All observers seemed to adopt a strategy of largely
watching the cigarette hand through much of the second performance of the trial. There
were also fewer looks to the magician’s face throughout the trial.
If we consider the lighter and cigarette drops, it can be seen that the magician’s
misdirection appears to be effective. Shortly before the lighter was dropped, the magician
turned his head to watch the cigarette and cigarette hand as he turned the cigarette around
(see also Figure 1). At this time during the first performance of the trick, informed
observers tended to be looking at the cigarette hand as expected, but uninformed observers
tended to be looking at the magician’s face (Figure 4). Although the latter is not entirely
as might be expected (or as the magician might hope), both represent an effective
misdirection from the lighter hand as the lighter is dropped.
In the case of the cigarette drop all participants tended to follow the magician’s gaze
during the first performance of the trick and be looking at the lighter hand at this time.
Because both groups of observers tended to watch the cigarette hand throughout most
of the second performance of the trick, the magician’s misdirection was less effective.
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708 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
Face
Cigarette hand
Cigarette pack
Cigarette
Lighter hand
Body
Other
Face
Cigarette hand
Cigarette pack
Cigarette
Lighter hand
Body
Other
1st performance 2nd performance
Uninformed
observers
Informed
observers
02 810
Time/s
Lighter
drop
Cigarette
drop
Lighter
drop
Cigarette
drop
46
Time/s
02 81046
Figure 4. Plots of the total number of observers looking at each of the 7 possible gaze target regions over
the course of the performance of the trick. In each plot, the baseline for each target region is 0 (no observers
fixated that region at that time) and the maximum was 8 (all observers fixated that region at that time). Plots
show these data for both uninformed (upper panels) and informed (lower panels) observers and for both the
first (left panels) and second (right panels) performances of the trick. The timings of the lighter and cigarette
drops are also indicated by the bold dashed lines. The faint dashed lines indicate when the magician turned his
head towards the target of misdirection before the drop (i.e. to the cigarette hand just before the lighter drop
and to the lighter hand just before the cigarette drop – see Figure 1).
However, it is interesting to note that when the cigarette was dropped, the observers
did again show a tendency to be misdirected to the lighter hand. Here again arises a
difference between the two groups of observers. When uninformed observers watched
the trick a second time, most fixated the lighter hand around the time of the cigarette
drop, whereas informed observers fixated either the lighter hand or the magician’s body
(in equal number). Fixating the body at this time might represent a ‘disengagement’
strategy; defeating the magician’s misdirection by fixating a ‘neutral’ location in the
scene from which the cigarette drop might be detected. Thus although both groups
of observers successfully detected the cigarette drop on the second performance, their
viewing strategies at the time of this event appear to be somewhat different.
One interesting observation in the above results is that detecting the cigarette did not
appear to be dependent upon fixating on or very near to the dropping cigarette (as was
also found in Kuhn & Tatler, 2005); observers detected the drop in the second trial even
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 709
when not fixating the cigarette at the time it was dropped. Our results are therefore not
entirely in accordance with the traditional view that attention and eye movements are
necessarily intimately linked (e.g., Peterson, Kramer, & Irwin, 2004). Recent studies have
argued that visual encoding of a scene is largely biased by what is selected for fixation
(e.g., Hollingworth & Henderson, 2002; Tatler, Gilchrist, & Land, 2005). Hollingworth,
Schrock, and Henderson (2001) found a large effect of fixation position in a change
detection task, with most detections being accompanied by fixation of the changing object.
From this result they suggested that fixation of the changing object was instrumental in
detecting the change. Given this, our result that detection of the cigarette drop was not
heavily dependent upon fixating on or near it is rather unexpected. Our data argue that,
in the case of our magic trick, attention and eye position can be de-coupled, such that the
eye may be misdirected but covert attention may not. This intriguing possibility clearly
deserves closer examination in the future.
6. Do observers follow the magician’s gaze?
Throughout this chapter we have alluded to the role of the magician’s gaze in misdirecting
the observer. As we mentioned in the introduction, social cues such as where a person is
looking can strongly influence an observer’s direction of attention; an observer will often
look where someone else directs their gaze to (e.g., Ricciardelli et al., 2002). However,
this is not always the case: a speaker’s gaze at their own gestures does not necessarily
result in an eye movement to that gesture by the observer (Gullberg, 2002).
Figure 5 shows observers watching the first performance of the trick. For the first
section of the trick, there is a relatively loose coupling between where the magician looks
and where the observers look. However, from about the time that the magician turns the
cigarette around a much closer association develops. This close association between the
magician’s gaze and the observer’s gaze is consistent with what is known from the social
attention literature, where people show a strong tendency to follow another person’s
gaze (e.g., Driver et al., 1999; Langton et al., 2000; Scaife & Bruner, 1975; Triesch
et al., 2006). In current work, our group has been exploring in more detail the issue of
social attentional cuing in magic. By varying the availability of social cues for shared
attention we have found that the effectiveness of a magic trick varies; the fewer social
cues provided by the magician, the less effective the trick (Kuhn & Land, 2006). It is
interesting that the close association between the gazes of the magician and the observer
is not maintained throughout the trick but only develops for the second half of the
performance, when the crucial acts of the trick (the disappearances) occur. What (if any)
extra cues for directing the observer’s attention are employed by the magician during this
half of the trick that reinforce the shared attention are not entirely clear and warrant further
investigation.
In order to explore the congruence between the magician’s and observer’s gaze in more
detail, we divided the trick into 10 sections of equal duration and calculated the proportion
of time for which the magician and observer were looking at the same gaze target. Because
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710 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
Magician’s
gaze LH
CP
Face CH/LH CH/C CH/
LH LH CH
Face
Cigarette hand
Cigarette
Cigarette pack
Lighter hand
Body
Other
Face
Cigarette hand
Cigarette
Cigarette pack
Lighter hand
Body
Other
Cigarette
drop
Lighter
drop
Uninformed
observers
Informed
observers
Key to abbreviations:
CH = Cigarette hand CP = Cigarette packet C = Cigarette LH = Lighter hand
Time
Figure 5. Where observers fixated during the first performance of the trick for uninformed (upper) and informed
(lower) observers (plotted using the same conventions as in Figure 4 above). The superimposed white and grey
bands indicate where the magician was looking throughout the trial and therefore where the observer might
have been expected to fixate if following the magician’s gaze. The dashed lines indicate when the lighter and
cigarette drops occurred.
the observer’s gaze will necessarily lag the magician’s even if they are entirely following
his gaze, we offset the observer’s gaze by 500 ms. A three-way mixed design ANOVA
(section in trick, informed/uninformed, first/second performance) showed a main effect
of the section within the trial, F9126=2105p<0001. There was no main effect of
prior knowledge, F114=29p=0597, underlining our previous suggestion that prior
knowledge has relatively little influence on visual inspection behaviour when watching
the trick. There was a significant two-way interaction between prior knowledge and the
section of the trick, F9126=241p=0015. Simple pairwise comparisons showed
two significant differences between informed and uninformed observers: congruence was
higher for informed observers in the fourth section of the trick, p=0009 (just before
the lighter drop), and for uninformed observers in the seventh section, p=0037 (just
before the cigarette drop).
There was a significant three-way interaction between prior knowledge, first or second
performance of the trick, and section of the trick, F9126=351p=0001 (Figure 6).
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 711
Section of trick
(a)
Uninformed observers
12345678910
Congruence between magician
and observer
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
1st Performance
2nd Performance
1st Performance
2nd Performance
12345678910
Congruence between magician
and observer
Section of trick
(b)
Informed observers
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
Figure 6. (a) Mean congruence between the magician’s gaze and observer’s gaze (±1SE) for uninformed
observers when watching the two performances of the trick for each of ten equal duration sections of the
trick. (b) Mean congruence between the magician’s and observer’s gaze (±1SE) for informed observers when
watching the two performances of the trick for each of ten equal duration sections of the trick.
Simple pairwise comparisons showed one difference that approached significance between
the two performances of the trick for informed observers: congruence was higher in the
eighth section for the first performance, p=0053, perhaps suggesting greater disengage-
ment from the magician’s misdirection at this point (around the time of the cigarette drop)
during the second performance. For uninformed observers, congruence was higher for
the first performance of the trick during the third (p=0033; roughly when the cigarette
is initially placed in mouth), fourth (p=0088; just before the lighter drop) and ninth
(p=0028; just after the cigarette drop) sections of the trick, but higher for the second
performance of the trick during the first section (p=0043; the initial engagement of
the observer by the magician). Thus, uninformed observers appeared to be less likely
to be led by the magician’s gaze during the first half of the second performance than
in the first half of the first performance. While we found differences between informed
and uninformed participants and between the two performances of the trick, these were
relatively few and for most sections of the trick there was little difference between the
observer groups or performances.
The misdirection at the time of the cigarette drop is interesting because (unlike the
lighter drop) the observers were generally looking at the cigarette hand until misdirected
to the lighter hand. This event can therefore allow further insights into the dynamics of
misdirection. Figure 7 shows that, in the first trial, the magician tended to look at the
lighter hand about 740 ms before dropping the cigarette from his other hand. On average,
observers followed the magician’s gaze and looked at the lighter hand 400 ms after the
magician. Therefore, they tended to move their eyes to the lighter hand on average 340 ms
before the cigarette was dropped. By directing his gaze to the lighter hand some three
quarters of a second before dropping the cigarette, the magician appears to allow sufficient
time to ensure that the observer is likely to have shifted their gaze to the lighter hand
before the cigarette is dropped.
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712 B. W. Tatler and G. Kuhn
Magician looks at lighter hand
Observer looks at
lighter hand
340 ms
740 ms
Time
Magician drops
cigarette
400 ms
Figure 7. The average timings between when the magician turned his gaze towards the lighter hand to misdirect
the observer, when the observer shifted their gaze to the lighter hand, and when the cigarette was dropped.
7. Conclusions
In this chapter we have seen that when watching a magician perform a magic trick live,
our capacity and propensity to follow another person’s gaze appears to be an important
aspect of a magician’s success in achieving misdirection.
As we suggested in our previous article (Kuhn & Tatler, 2005), detecting the manner
of the ‘disappearances’ was not dependent upon fixating the object around the time it was
dropped. Clearly, this not only argues that detection was achieved using covert visual
attention, but also highlights the possibility that overt eye position and covert attention
can be de-coupled by observers watching this trick. Our data also raise the interesting
possibility that while the oculomotor system may still be misdirected by the magician
even for informed observers or during the second performance, the attentional system
seems somewhat less prone to this misdirection.
There were large differences in the viewing strategies of observers on the first and
second trials; observers appeared to be adopting a strategy of watching the cigarette
and cigarette hand throughout the second performance. Despite these differences and an
apparent attempt to defeat the magician’s misdirection, observers still seemed to be prone
to the magician’s misdirection, often tending to look to the now empty lighter hand when
the cigarette was dropped.
It is surprising how little difference there was between the uninformed and informed
observers. Given such different priorities and knowledge for the two groups of observers
when viewing the trick, more profoundly different viewing strategies might have been
expected. Instructions given to observers before viewing a static scene can have profound
effects upon the subsequent viewing strategies (e.g., Buswell, 1935; Yarbus, 1967), yet in
this case they appear to have little effect. Informed observers were prone to the magician’s
misdirection when they watch the trick for the first time. Our finding of only small
differences between the strategies of uninformed and informed observers is consistent
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Ch. 33: Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection 713
with our previous study that showed little difference in detection rates for spotting the
cigarette drop in the same magic trick (Kuhn & Tatler, 2005). That even the informed
observers followed the magician’s gaze demonstrates the dominance of social cues for
joint attention: even when trying to defeat the magician’s misdirection these observers
were unable to defeat their propensity for joint attention.
Acknowledgements
We thank Catherine Hughes for her invaluable help in recruiting participants for the
experiment. Tom Sgouros kindly provided us with stories of unexpectedly effective stage
magic, upon which our anecdote at the start of this chapter is based. We are very grateful
to Boris Velichkovsky, Mike Land and Roger Van Gompel for their helpful comments
on a previous version of this chapter.
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