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← Secrets of the mind and free will -- revealed by magic tricks

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Showing Revision 8 created 09/23/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. Alright.
  2. I'd like to start
    with a small imagination exercise.
  3. Imagine you're sitting at this table,
    facing me right now.

  4. Now, I'm going to ask you
    to push one of these cards towards me.
  5. So please imagine yourself
    pushing one of these cards towards me.
  6. OK, so take the number
    matching the card you pushed

  7. and remember it --
    it's important for later.
  8. Now, I'm going to flip
    through this deck of cards

  9. and ask you to choose a card
    that you will see in the deck.
  10. Are you ready?
  11. Alright, now that you have
    your card in mind,

  12. add the value of your card
    to your previous number.
  13. For example, if you chose
    the six of clubs, add six,
  14. if it's an ace, add one,
  15. and take 11 for any picture cards.
  16. Have you got your final number in mind?

  17. Perfect.
  18. So please take the item
    matching your final number.
  19. Now, here's what's funny.

  20. There are going to be
    a lot of people watching this video,
  21. and you all have different quirks
    with different preferences.
  22. And yet,
  23. the vast majority of you right now
    is thinking about a kiwi,
  24. or, if you're left-handed,
    probably a corn on the cob.
  25. Yes, I just tricked you.

  26. And I used your psychological biases
  27. to influence both of your decisions.
  28. I work in the MAGIC Lab

  29. at Goldsmiths University of London,
  30. which is not only a place
    where we make assistants vanish,
  31. but where we use magic tricks
    to study psychological processes,
  32. such as attention, perception,
    deception and free will.
  33. I am fascinated by the subtle factors
    that influence our choices,

  34. and how understanding our flaws
    can give us back some power.
  35. Magic tricks provide a powerful tool
    to investigate this,
  36. and our experiments have shown that.
  37. First, we humans tend to go
    for the easiest decisions.

  38. With the card trick I did,
  39. most people tend to choose
    the card that I want them to choose,
  40. because I'm presenting it
    a bit longer than the others.
  41. And it becomes the easiest
    option for your brain.
  42. In our case,
  43. the majority of you probably chose
    the ten of hearts, right?
  44. And a lot of other tricks
    are based on this principle
  45. of easy decision.
  46. Because magicians are very aware
  47. that our brain, not to say "we,"
    tends to be a bit lazy.
  48. The exercise we did with the four cards
    is also a good example of this.

  49. It's based on another trick
    I investigated,
  50. where I ask participants
    to physically push
  51. one of the four cards towards me.
  52. We found that around 60 percent of people
    choose the third card from the left,
  53. and if they were left-handed,
  54. they typically chose
    the second card from the left.
  55. This is based on the easy-option
    principle again,
  56. because the card that most people choose
  57. is the most easy to reach
    by the dominant hand.
  58. So, I knew that most of you
  59. would end up with one
    of these two numbers,
  60. and this allowed me to estimate
  61. the two most probable things
    you would end up with.
  62. But this is not just about magic.

  63. It's also about how we are influenced
    in our day-to-day lives.
  64. You know, stories and politicians
  65. play with your mind as well, all the time,
  66. because they also know
    that we tend to choose and like
  67. what's easily grabbed or seen.
  68. For instance, when you are in a store,

  69. choosing a bottle of wine or a bag of rice
  70. among many lined up on vertical shelves,
  71. your first instinct is to look
  72. only at the ones that are on the shelves
    in front of your eyes, right?
  73. It's easier and requires less effort.
  74. Did you know that many brands
    actually negotiate
  75. to be at eye-level
    on grocery store shelves
  76. because of that easy-option principle?
  77. And this is a tactic
    that many politicians use.

  78. When information is right in front
    of our eyes on social media,
  79. it's easily accessible,
  80. and it absolutely affects
    our voting behaviors.
  81. Political outcomes,
    such as the Brexit referendum
  82. or the American election in 2016,
  83. were heavily influenced
    by targeted advertising,
  84. making some information,
  85. which was not necessarily truthful,
  86. disproportionately easily accessible
    and visible to specific audiences
  87. to influence their votes.
  88. But here is the good news.

  89. Some simple factors have an impact
    on how influencible we are.
  90. In an experiment using the trick
    with the four cards,
  91. we found that explicitly
    informing participants
  92. that they have a choice
  93. can actually lead them to make
    more deliberate decisions,
  94. as opposed to behaving in the way
    we are trying to make them behave.
  95. In other words,

  96. I either simply asked participants
    to push one of the cards,
  97. or I said,
  98. "Choose a card, and then push it."
  99. And when asked to choose a card,
  100. the percentage of people who impulsively
    chose the most reachable one
  101. dropped from 60 to 35 percent.
  102. So, it seems that when we are reminded
    that we have control over our choices,
  103. and know that our actions matter,
  104. as opposed to acting without thinking,
  105. we can actually make
    more personal decisions
  106. and are less easily influenced.
  107. Let me show you another trick,

  108. invented by a British
    mentalist Derren Brown,
  109. to make my point.
  110. This one uses what's called
    "priming" in psychology.
  111. Priming happens when exposure to something
  112. influences your thoughts
    and behavior later on,
  113. without you being aware
  114. that the first thing
    is guiding you to a certain extent.
  115. The trick is usually done
    in a more intimate context,
  116. where I would be directly facing you,
  117. but we'll give it a try together.
  118. Just focus on me as best as you can,
  119. but do not let me influence your choice.
  120. I'm going to try and mentally transmit
    the identity of a playing card
  121. I'm thinking of.
  122. Are you ready?
  123. OK, so first make the color
    bright and vivid.

  124. Imagine a screen in your mind,
  125. and on the screen, the little numbers,
    low down in the corners of the cards,
  126. and then in the top of the cards.
  127. And then the things in the middle,
  128. in the center of the cards,
  129. the boom, boom, boom, the suits.
  130. Did you get it?
  131. OK, so I'm going to bet
    that the majority of you

  132. thought about the three of diamonds,
  133. but chose another card, right?
  134. As you might have noticed,
  135. I heavily tried to influence
    your choice with my gestures
  136. while giving you the instructions.
  137. By studying this trick,
  138. we found that around 18 percent of people
    choose the three of diamonds,
  139. and nearly 40 percent choose
    the three of any suit,
  140. while being completely oblivious
    of the fact I was manipulating them.
  141. So what happened here?

  142. Because you were aware
  143. that I was trying
    to influence your choice,
  144. you probably paid more attention
    to what I was doing.
  145. And this led the majority of you
    to choose more consciously
  146. than our participants
    who have no information
  147. about who I am, what I'm studying
  148. or what I'm trying to do with their minds.
  149. So the thing is,

  150. in all of our experiments,
  151. we managed to heavily influence
    people's card choices,
  152. while they report feeling completely free
    and in control of their choice.
  153. And this lack of self-awareness
  154. makes politicians, companies
  155. and other people's influence
    all the more powerful,
  156. because we might think we are in control
    of our choice and beliefs
  157. when we are not.
  158. Politically or in our consumer behaviors,

  159. if we don't pay attention,
  160. misleading content or showy ads
    can just trick our mind.
  161. What if, in our day-to-day lives,
  162. we would stop more often
    and consciously choose
  163. before acting on this impulsive,
    reactive beast inside of us?
  164. We can actually act more consciously
  165. if we keep in mind
  166. that we have the capacity
    to be influenced.
  167. Thank you.