The Magic in Your Eyes
2019-08-13 17:16

What spectators’ gaze reveals about the conjuring arts


The Magic in Your Eyes

Dimitri Surkov Getty的图片资料

When Susana Martinez-Conde and I talk to audiences about NeuroMagic—our research initiative to study the brain with magic (and vice-versa), people often ask us how we bring both fields together. They want to know in what ways magic tricks can inform neuroscience. How do we run a neuromagic experiment, from collecting the data to using the results to gain knowledge about the mind's inner secrets?

当我和Susana Martinez-Conde向观众说起神经魔术——我们最初计划用魔术研究大脑(反之亦然),人们都常问我们是怎么把这两个领域联系在一起的。他们想知道魔术是怎样影响神经科学的。从收集数据到分析结果从而破解大脑内在的秘密,我们要怎样进行神经魔术实验。

Our new study, led by Anthony Barnhart (aka Magic Tony) and just published in the Journal of Eye Movement Research, illustrates some of the ways in which we investigate magic in the lab. You can downloadthe paper for free, but as it is written for academics, I'll give you the gist here.

根据Anthony Barnhart(又名Magic Tony)在眼动实验期刊上发表的最新研究,揭示了实验室中魔术研究的常用方法。全文可免费下载,但是文章偏学术性,我将要点列给大家。

The experiment addresses how various neural circuits interact in your brain while you watch a magic performance. There's the visual system—critical for perception—there's the oculomotor system—critical for targeting and moving the eyes—and there's the attentional system—critical for filtering out irrelevant information and allowing you to literally and figuratively focus both the visual and oculomotor systems at the right place and at the right time. Without all three of these systems working together, you would be unable to conduct most visual tasks.

实验将阐述了当你在观看一场魔术表演时,大脑中各个神经通路是如何相互影响的。视觉系统——对感知非常重要,动眼神经——对眼球移动与定位很重要,注意力系统——对过滤无关信息,让你在正确的地点和时间内将视觉系统和眼动神经在字面和象征意义上结合在一起至关重要。若这三个系统不能一起工作 ,多数视觉任务将无法执行。

Magic is one of the inroads available to dissect the function of many perceptual and cognitive systems, and especially so in situations that are fairly similar to those we encounter in real life. This concept—ecological validity—is important to testing whether neuroscience theories will hold up outside of the lab, and one of the reasons why magic tricks are attractive for studying everyday perception and cognition.


Before I get deeper into our study, there's one important thing you need to know about the oculomotor system: you can never hold your gaze completely still, even though you may feel as if you are able to. That is, whenever you try to keep your eyes from moving, you are nevertheless making tiny eye movements, which are invisible to the naked eye but detectable in the lab. Some of these miniature, involuntary eye motions, take the form of little jumps that occur once or twice per second. They are called microsaccades, and your brain hides them from your perception—a good thing, or you would see the world jumping around all the time. Another critical fact about microsaccades is that your brain controls their direction using the same circuits that control the position of your attentional spotlight in the visual field.

在深入研究之前,关于动眼系统你必需要知道的事:你无法使你的目光完全不动,那怕你自认为自己可以。当你尝试将目光保持不动时,你的眼睛也会有不自主的细微运动,通常这种运动裸眼是看不出来的,通过实验室检查才能发现。有些细微的、不自主的眼球运动是每秒钟一两次的竖直跳动,它们被称作微跳动,大脑把此运动瞒过了你的感知系统——这其实是件好事 ,否则你将会觉得世界在不断跳动。另外一件关于微跳动不得不说的事,大脑还可通过调节视野中注意中心的神经通路,来控制微跳动的方向。

It follows that, when a magician misdirects an audience by controlling their attentional spotlights in precisely choreographed ways, microsaccadic eye movements should change directions accordingly. This means that, by recording spectators’ microsaccades during a magic performance, we may be able to pinpoint their true attentional allocation, even when their eyes are not moving in obvious ways. 


The specific experiment we conducted required participants to perform a dual task: determine the position of a coin under one of two napkins, and simultaneously indicate if a flashed stimulus was a match for various items displayed in an array. The movie below shows an example trial, out of many in the experiment:


Magic Tony magically moves a coin while you match the white circle. 


If you correctly matched the white dot to its corresponding location in the array while watching the above video, you may have missed that the coin moved from being under one napkin to the other (the magical method is entirely visible if you look for it). It is extremely difficult to do both tasks well (to match the dot and to see the coin move), so our subjects often guessed on one of the tasks. If you chose to pay attention to the dots, your microsaccades might have been vertically biased, whereas if you paid attention to the napkins instead, your microsaccades might have been biased in the horizontal direction.


Our data showed that microsaccade directions did tend to track those locations that participants paid attention to, supporting the idea that microsaccades may be used to track somebody’s hidden attentional focus in everyday scenarios. Now that you know the story, feel free to give the paper a read for a more in-depth discussion of our results and their implications.


Additional Reading:


Anthony S. Barnhart, Francisco M. Costela, Susana Martinez-Conde, Stephen L. Macknik, and Stephen D. Goldinger (2019). Microsaccades reflect misdirected attention. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 12(6):7

Anthony S. Barnhart,Francisco M. Costela,Susana Martinez-Conde,Stephen L. Macknik,Stephen D. Goldinger(2019年).微跳动揭示误导的注意力.眼动研究杂志.12(6):7

Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde (2008). Magic and the Brain. Scientific American 299(6): 72-79.

Stephen L. Macknik,Susana Martinez-Conde(2008年). 魔术和大脑. 科学美国人. 299(6):72-79

Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde with Sandra Blakeslee (2010). “Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions,” Henry Holt, New York City. 

Stephen L. Macknik,Susana Martinez-Conde,Sandra Blakeslee(2010年).《心灵的诡计:魔术的神经科学揭示了我们日常的欺骗行为》.Henry Holt,纽约市

Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik (2007). Mind tricks. Nature 448: 414. 

Susana Martinez-Conde,Stephen L. Macknik(2007年).思维.自然.448:414

Stephen L. Macknik et al. (2008). Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic: Turning Tricks Into Research. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9(11): 871-879.

Stephen L. Macknik等(2008年).舞台魔术中的注意力和意识:将技巧转化为研究.自然评论神经科学9(11):871-879.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.




Stephen L. Macknik

Stephen L. Macknik

Stephen L. Macknik is a professor of opthalmology, neurology, and physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Along with Susana Martinez-Conde and Sandra Blakeslee, he is author of the Prisma Prize-winning Sleights of Mind. Their forthcoming book, Champions of Illusion, will be published by Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Stephen L. Macknik是纽约布鲁克林的苏尼州下医疗中心的眼科、神经病学、生理学和药理学教授,他与Susana Martinez-Conde和Sandra Blakeslee一起,著有《百里玛获得心理障碍奖》一书。他们即将出版的书《幻象的拥护者》将由科学美国人/法拉、斯特劳斯和吉鲁出版。

Credit: Sean McCabe

Sean McCabe

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