Blinded by magic: Eye-movements reveal the misdirection of attention

Anthony S. Barnhart, Stephen Goldinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Recent studies (e.g., Kuhn and Tatler, 2005) have suggested that magic tricks can provide a powerful and compelling domain for the study of attention and perception. In particular, many stage illusions involve attentional misdirection, guiding the observer's gaze to a salient object or event, while another critical action, such as sleight of hand, is taking place. Even if the critical action takes place in full view, people typically fail to see it due to inattentional blindness (IB). In an eye-tracking experiment, participants watched videos of a new magic trick, wherein a coin placed beneath a napkin disappears, reappearing under a different napkin. Appropriately deployed attention would allow participants to detect the "secret" event that underlies the illusion (a moving coin), as it happens in full view and is visible for approximately 550 ms. Nevertheless, we observed high rates of IB. Unlike prior research, eye-movements during the critical event showed different patterns for participants, depending upon whether they saw the moving coin. The results also showed that when participants watched several "practice" videos without any moving coin, they became far more likely to detect the coin in the critical trial. Taken together, the findings are consistent with perceptual load theory (Lavie and Tsal, 1994).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1461
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberDEC
StatePublished - 2014


  • Attention
  • Covert attention
  • Eye-movements
  • Eye-tracking
  • Inattentional blindness
  • Magic
  • Perceptual load

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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