In addition, magicians often say that success with illusions depends on how well they can use gazes and faces to manipulate where audiences look, Macknik explained. The researchers tested this idea by hiding Teller's face on the video clips with a black rectangle, and found doing so apparently did not affect the illusion.
"We're showing a discovery that magicians missed because they relied on their intuition, and their intuition was wrong," Macknik said.
These findings support recent studies, including one from Macknik and his colleagues, which hinted that the facial expressions and other social cues magicians think are crucial to illusions may not actually be essential.
"A huge amount of training in magic is that social cues matter," Macknik said. "We're starting to wonder if social cues help with any magic tricks. Future research is warranted to look at the effects of social cues in illusions … we'd like to see an effect where they really matter."
These new findings shed light on how and by how much people can be misdirected, which could help magicians improve their art.
Macknik and his colleagues Hector Rieiro and Susana Martinez-Conde detailed their findings online Feb. 12 in the inaugural issue of the journal PeerJ.