What performing magic for animals teaches us about the brain - Inverse
Sep 17, 2020 1 min, 10 secs

To better understand perception and cognition, Garcia-Pelegrin performs magic tricks for animals.

Magic tricks work on humans thanks to a delicate balance of expectations and misdirection.

A trick may be astounding to a human, "but it's only great because you understand that I mean you no harm," Garcia-Pelegrin says.

Animal research subjects need to understand certain concepts — elements like gravity and a general intuition about the way the world worlds — to perceive magic tricks as humans do.

In animals, Garcia-Pelegrin argues for using the same trick to study their perception of the ball's disappearance and determining whether past experiences or current expectations change that perception.

Testing how animals react to a vanishing object can bring forth new ideas about animals' expectations and whether human body language influences an animal audience, Garcia-Pelegrin explains.

Magic in nature — Performing magic for an audience of animals can tell us something new about perception.

The idea that these tactics work in nature suggests animals may have adapted to exploit blind spots in attention similar to the ones humans have — which allow us to be awed by magic

In the future, Garcia-Pelegrin hopes that research can answer three main questions about animal perception of magic:

Whatever the outcome of future experiments, the empirical evidence that animals might be into magic is there already, Garcia-Pelegrin says: "If animals were't perceptive to it, we wouldn't have 10,000 videos on YouTube."


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