Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Researchers at Durham University have turned into magicians to better understand (how humans think and act.)

Magic tricks aid research project

Researchers at Durham University have turned into magicians to better understand how humans think and act.

They claim methods used by magicians like David Blaine to manipulate perception could be used to improve the next generation of computers.

They developed a series of magic tricks as part of a research project with colleagues from British Columbia.

The team say attempts to link magic and human cognition have been largely ignored by modern psychology.

Researchers say their findings have potential long-term applications in activities which aim to grab people's attention, such as human-computer interfaces, which are thought to become increasingly more complicated.

'Laws of physics'

Dr Gustav Kuhn, who works in Durham University's psychology department but is also a practising magician, said: "Magicians are in some ways miles ahead of scientists.

"For example, imagine a ball tossed into the air that suddenly disappears, or someone successfully predicting what you will do next.

"These tricks may seem like they defy the laws of physics and logic but they are actually created through a combination of skill and a deep knowledge of human psychology.

"By drawing upon the practical knowledge and experience of magicians, scientists may obtain new insights into various areas of human perception and cognition that we are still struggling to understand.

"Although the methods we have developed are proving very useful in investigating the mind, in our dual roles as scientists and magicians, we take great care in protecting the mysteries and secrets of magic."

Magic Tricks Reveal Mysteries of Human Mind

Magicians are way ahead of psychologists when it comes to understanding and exploiting the human mind and our perceptual quirks.

A new study, detailed in the current online issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, reveals how elements of human cognition, such as awareness and perception, could be explained by the success of some techniques commonly used by magicians.

For instance, vanishing tricks rely on the idea that we are only aware of a small part of what's in our visual field.

"Although a few attempts have been made in the past to draw links between magic and human cognition, the knowledge obtained by magicians has been largely ignored by modern psychology," said researcher Ronald Rensink, who specializes in vision and cognition at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

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