News Release 

Using magic to reveal hidden insights into animal cognition

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Research News

Could performing magic tricks to an animal audience reveal novel insights about cognition in the non-human mind? In a Perspective, Elias Garcia-Pelegrin and colleagues outline current research into the psychology of magic, illuminating how it could be used as a framework for exploring cognition and perception in animals. Experiments using magic effects - mental tricks such as sleight of hand, illusion and distraction, which are designed to undermine a spectator's expectations - are increasingly being used by the scientific community as a way to understand the blind spots in human perception, attention and cognition. This approach can inform blind spots in remembering the past or anticipating the future. Garcia-Pelegrin et al. argue that extending magical frameworks to research on the animal mind could be useful in comparative studies on similar phenomena in various species or, perhaps, provide a way to probe their more complex cognitive capabilities. According to the authors, some animals, particularly corvid birds such as magpies and jays, exhibit behaviors that could be considered analogous to performing their own "magic effects." For example, some corvids will discretely hide their food while performing bluff storage attempts to misdirect potential thieves. This strategy to deceive others suggests that some misdirection techniques may exploit similar cognitive blind spots in attention as they do in humans. "Studying whether animals can be deceived by the same magic effects that deceive humans can offer a window into the cognitive parallels and variances in attention, perception, and mental time travel, especially those species thought to possess the necessary prerequisites to be deceived by magic effects," write the authors.


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