Birds are less fooled by magic tricks than humans, study finds
Not that stupid after all! Birds are less easily fooled by sleight of hand than humans, study finds
- Cambridge scientists performed magic tricks on jays and human volunteers
- The experts did three rounds – palming, the French drop and the fast pass
- Birds performed better on two of the three laps than humans
Birds are less easily fooled by sleight of hand than humans, new avian perception study reveals.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge performed three variations of magic tricks on six Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius), as well as on 80 human volunteers.
Overall, experts found that the bird species was better able to complete two of the three tricks than humans, although humans and jays did much the same in the third round.
Until this study, little was known about how non-human animals perceive the “complex techniques of deception” involved in magic tricks, say the authors.
They believe that studying animals’ reactions to tricks can reveal secrets about how their brains work.
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THE THREE TIPS
– Palming: Involves hiding an object in the palm by pretending that the hand is empty.
– French gout: Involves pretending to pass something from one palm to the other, without actually moving the object.
– The fast pass: Involves moving an object between your hands so quickly that it is not seen.
The study was led by Elias Garcia-Pelegrin, magician and cognitive scientist at the University of Cambridge.
Magic tricks could be a good tool “for investigating the non-human animal spirit,” he says in an article for The Conversation.
“Studying how animals perceive the magical effects that deceive and surprise humans can help us understand how their minds perceive the world around them and whether such experiences in any way resemble our own,” writes- he.
“We performed three different sleight of hand on Eurasian jays and human participants and compared their responses.”
The three magic tricks used in the experiments – palming, French drop, and fast pass – all involve fooling the observer into believing that an object has or has not been transferred from one hand to the other.
For experiments with Eurasian jays, a worm was passed through Garcia-Pelegrin’s hand, which the birds were allowed to eat if they chose the correct one.
Overall, the birds performed better than humans on the palming and French drop, but they were considerably fooled by the third technique – the fast pass.
This means that, like humans, Eurasian jays are sensitive to magical effects involving rapid movement.
“Unlike our human sample, which was considerably fooled by the three magical effects we performed, the Eurasian jays did not appear to be fooled by the first two turns,” Garcia-Pelegrin said.
“This could be because jays lack the expectations of manual mechanics that make us humans susceptible to these deceitful techniques.”
The results are intriguing in part because the birds seemed to understand the intricacies of astute hand movements, even though they don’t have hands themselves.
The birds might have simply chosen the hand in which they last saw the worm, while humans knew they were being tricked and therefore became more confused and uncertain when making their choice. .
Similar to humans, Eurasian jays are sensitive to magical effects that involve rapid movements
“Eurasian jays do not appear to be misled by the magical effects that rely on the intrinsic expectations of the observer in the manipulation of human objects,” Garcia-Pelegrin and his co-authors state in their research paper.
The disappointment is not entirely new to corvids (birds of the crows family which include the Eurasian jay and other jays, as well as crows and magpies).
They hide food discreetly in one place while pretending to hide it in many other places, to confuse food thieves.
“This intelligent family of birds uses complex and very elaborate protective tactics that are comparable to the misdirection used by magicians,” says Garcia-Pelegrin.
The new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
MAGIC TRACKS COULD REVEAL SECRETS ABOUT ANIMAL MIND
Researchers at the University of Cambridge argue that magic tricks should be used to learn more about how animal minds work.
In an article in the journal Science, they say that “the application of magical effects to study the animal mind can encourage comparison of behavioral reactions between various species.”
Studying the ways in which magic tricks trick the brain may explain “blind spots” in perception.
In their article, the authors suggest that the same should be true for animals exposed to magic tricks.
Memorable viral videos over the past few years have shown human reactions to the magic tricks of non-human primates.
But some effort needs to be made to understand what the animals really think about these videos.
Researchers are turning their attention to other types of animals – in their 2021 study, they tested Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) with three sleight of hand.
Overall, the bird species was better able to pull off two of the three rounds than humans, according to experts, although both humans and jays did much the same in the third round.