The hat with the fake bottom, which conceals a rabbit. The handkerchiefs tucked up one sleeve. And the box that has fake feet sticking out of one end, so the lady can be “sawed” in half (actually, she’s curled safely in one side). We think we know some of the common tools in the magician’s bag of tricks. But what we haven’t noticed—because of their deceptive skill—is that their number-one sleight facilitator is our own, untrustworthy mind.
Over many years conjurers have honed the high art of manipulating our brains. They deliberately divert our attention and focus to fool us with their delightful capers. An innocent-looking adjustment of eyeglasses with one hand can conceal a smooth movement by the other to hide a coin. Magicians’ “field research” has only recently become appreciated by neuroscientists working in labs—who use different means but who also study attention and awareness, a facet of the study of consciousness and one of the hottest areas of neuroscience.
Working with performers, neuroscientists are probing the neural correlates of attention. To learn more, check out our cover story, “Mind over Magic?” by neuroscientists Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde. On www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind, we also feature a video demonstration with the authors and the “gentleman thief” Apollo Robbins.
What is the trick to raising children well? Psychologist Robert Epstein offers 10 essential skills in “What Makes a Good Parent?” Some will surprise you. It may be obvious that every child needs love, but did you know that how you treat your partner—and yourself—matters a lot? Children do not like conflict, and how you handle stress is not just your problem. Parents who cope well tend to have better relationships with their kids. Fortunately, we can all learn ways to help manage life’s pressures, such as meditation. You might even consider taking in a magic show.
This article was originally published with the title Presto!.