The research was presented November 12 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. In it, Luis Martinez of CSIC- Miguel Hernandez University in Spain and his team “read minds” with the Princess Card Trick, an act invented by magician Henry Hardin in 1905. Participants in the study mentally picked out a playing card from a group of six cards, which then disappeared. When a second group of cards appeared, the researchers had amazingly figured out which card a person had in mind and removed it. Very few people caught the trick: All of the cards in the second set were different, not just the card that people had chosen. This trick is well-known to confuse the masses, even via the Internet a magician’s sleight of hand can make it seem as though he/she legitimately “read your mind”.
A few moments after viewing the two panels of cards, volunteers were asked which of two new cards was present in the first set of cards. None of the volunteers could actually recall which card was present. Despite claiming that they had no idea, when they were forced to choose, people got the right answer around 80 percent of the time. “People say they don’t know, but they do,” Martinez said. “The information is still there, and we can use it unconsciously if we are forced to.”
These unconscious, short-term memories are unpredictable. If the scientists talked to the volunteers while they were performing the trick, the ability to pick out the card that had been present got much worse. (Magicians may make sure to keep up a bit of noise for this reason.) And if the scientists unveiled the trick, participants didn’t perform any better than chance at identifying the card.
Let’s just hope that neuroscientists don’t advance their “magic” studies too fast, lest we lose all enjoyment in watching magic tricks.
Photo by : Helena Price