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Associate Professor NAKANO Tamami at the Dynamic Brain Network Laboratory, Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences, Osaka University and Richard J. Wiseman, a professor at University of Hertfordshire in the UK and well-known magician, clarified that during a magic trick, a magician used techniques for doing magic tricks timed to spontaneous eye-blinks synchronized across participants.

It is known that magicians do magic tricks by using a method of misdirection of attention, a method for distracting the attention of an audience that is focused on one thing by manipulating their minds through words and movements and by taking advantage of visual and audio effects.

Research by Professor Nakano and others had shown that the blinks of participants were significantly synchronized at implicit breaks of information on the scene while viewing videos and the activity of the brain responsible for external attention momentarily decreased following blink onset. It had been found that participants’ attention to a magic trick was temporarily relaxed when the blinks synchronized across participants.

Under the hypothesis that relaxation of attention is used for magic tricks, this group examined the timing of participants’ eye-blinks while they were watching a magic show.

In experiments, 20 people including OU students and staff watched a 2-minute coin magic video in which a famous American magician produced coins from various places. This group examined the timing of participants’ eye-blinks using a far-red light camera. As a result, it was found that the blinking of participants watching the magic trick occurred at a synchronized timing with an interval of 0.15 seconds.

Furthermore, while they were watching the magic trick in which coins came out from the magician’s hand one after another, participants’ eye-blinks were suppressed and just after the trick was over, at the timing when the eye-blinks of participants were significantly synchronized, the magician was taking action for the following trick.

This group’s research verified that magicians are taking action for the following trick at the moment when the audience’s attention is relaxed by manipulating the timing of participants’ eye-blinks.

By examining the timing of synchronized blinks of participants during a video viewing based on this group’s research results, it will become possible to use these findings for developing more attractive films and assessing people’s degree of interest about films.

Magicians use several techniques to deceive their audiences, including, for example, the misdirection of attention and verbal suggestion.  We explored another potential stratagem, namely the relaxation of externalized attention. Participants watched a video of a highly skilled magician whilst having their eye-blinks recorded.  The timing of spontaneous eye-blinks was highly synchronized across participants. In addition, the synchronized blinks frequency occurred immediately after a seemingly impossible feat, and often coincided with actions that the magician wanted to conceal from the audience.  Given that blinking is associated with the relaxation of externalized attention, these findings suggest that blinking plays an important role in the perception of magic, and that magicians may utilize blinking and the relaxation of externalized attention to hide certain secret actions.

A far-red light camera is used for detecting eye-blinks of a test subject watching a magic trick video

To learn more about this research, please view the full research report entitled "Blink and you’ll miss it: the role of blinking in the perception of magic tricks" at this page of the PeerJ website.

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