Humans are worse than jays at spotting magic tricks

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Magic tricks, from the knack to mentalism, have fascinated humans for centuries. Researchers are also interested in magic tricks, not as a form of entertainment, but rather because they allow us to zoom into the limits of our perception. It turns out that humans are relatively easy to fool with such tricks. Eurasian jays, on the other hand, are much more lively.

Eurasian jay observing a sleight of hand illusion of French fall. Credit: Elias Garcia-Pelegrin.

French gout – not just for humans

The French drop (or “Le Tourniquet) is one of the simplest tricks you can do. It is essentially a sleight of hand used to make a small object disappear, most often a coin or a coin. It works like this: you hold the object between your thumb and your first two fingers. You show it to viewers, then seem to use your other hand to carry it away – but you don’t. The object is webbed. in your first hand.

Although this has been done for a very long time, it remains remarkably effective. I just explained how it works, you need to know what to expect, and yet when you see it in action it still works:

But jays are better than humans at not being fooled.

“The results of the French palming and fall experiments suggest that Eurasian jays have different expectations than humans when they observe some of these effects. Specifically, Eurasian jays were not fooled by the effects that caused them to expect an object to move between the hands when they observe human hand manipulations, ”the researchers write.

To test birds’ blind spots, a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge taught six Eurasian jays to peck a human fist to receive a treat in the hand. If the bird picked the right hand, it received a treat. If they missed, they got nothing. They tested the birds with three magic tricks: the French drop described above, the palm transfer (which works by hiding an object in the palm), and the fast pass (which works by passing the object so fast between them. hands that the observer loses track of it).

Jays were chosen because, alongside several species of corvids, they appear to be one of the most intelligent bird species and they also use trickery to prevent other animals from stealing their food supplies.

The researchers tested the magic tricks on the birds several times, keeping track of their success rate. They then performed the same test with human volunteers online. Much like humans, jays have been misled by magical effects using rapid movements. However, the birds were significantly better at keeping track of the treat during kicking and French fall tricks.

Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). doi / 10.1073 / pnas.2026106118

“We demonstrate that, like humans, Eurasian jays are sensitive to magical effects that use rapid movements. However, unlike humans, Eurasian jays do not appear to be misled by magical effects that rely on the intrinsic expectations of the observer in the manipulation of human objects, ”write the researchers led by Elias Garcia-Pelegrin in the ‘study.

It is not clear how to interpret this finding in evolutionary terms. However, it appears that magic tricks may indeed provide an insightful methodology for investigating the shortcomings of perception and attention in human and non-human animals. It seems that jays have different expectations than humans, as well as different perception abilities.

The researchers’ end goal is to develop bespoke magic tricks that can help us better understand how we and other animals view the world. It is an avenue that was recommended by Garcia-Pelegrin since last year, when he published an article noting that magic tricks can “prompt the comparison of behavioral responses between various species, in which magical effects could exploit similar blind spots and cognitive barriers.” “

Journal reference: exploring the perceptual disabilities of Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) using magical effects, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.2026106118


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