How Magicians Trick Your Brain

Siegfried Tieber, a sleight-of-hand magician, or cognitive artist if you will, takes us through some illusions (formerly known as magic tricks). Magicians use a number of psychological tricks to bring their performances to life, such as guiding attention and forcing decisions. Can you decipher what's going on here?

AIRED: September 27, 2018 | 0:08:48


So I saw a magic show a few weeks ago and it was so good.

I was totally bamboozled and it got me thinking about how magicians trick your brain and the

psychology of deception.

So we're back, visiting the same magician with a camera and all of you to explore some

brain magic.

[BrainCraft title card]

Hi, Siegfried?

Good to see you!

Now this is Siegfried Tieber

My father was born and raised in Austria, that explains the name.

But my mother was born and raised in Columbia, that explains the hair.

But I was born and raised in Ecuador, that explains the accent.

Siegfried is a sleight of hand magician or illusionist - he performs in front of small

groups of people and his main tool is just a deck of cards!

And from this one tool he's become an expert in how people make decisions in everyday life.

There was a scientist who actually said that magicians were cognitive artists.

Which is a great job title!

That's a beautiful job title, I love it.

I absolutely love it.

And to get to the actual cognitive art

I mean, we're all here for the magic show.

Now bear with me, because there are no cuts during these sections.

No movie magic, just Siegfried.

[Pick a Card] Vanessa, I'm going to ask you to sign a card

from the deck.

So we can distinguish the card, don't pick a picture card, a Queen, a Jack, a King, maybe,

it would be ideal, if it's a red card that has a lot of white space on it so we can see

your signature.

But does it have to be a red card?


It can be a black card!

As you wish.


With that in mind, please take any card.

And I can see it, it doesn't matter.

You're allowed to see it?

I am allowed to see it.

Ok, excuse me.

I love it!

I'm signing a brain, you'll see.

That is very nice indeed!

Thank you.

I've had some practice!

You might agree-hold onto that one-for a second you might agree that right now, the

card is unique in the whole world.

I could not have another one of those with your signature.



I would agree.

Please leave it over there.

Roughly in the middle, right?

More or less.

Some 20, 30 cards from the top.

Nowhere near the top, nowhere near the bottom.

I will try to create the illusion that your card, 3 of clubs, melts through the deck until

it comes to the top.

Sounds good?

I mean it sounds awesome!

Let's see if it works.

3 of clubs...



People believe, and this is one of those very odd misconceptions -

It's just extra weird when you're sitting right here and I stared at his hands the entire


And all that happened was he just went like this.

And it was just right at the top.

I mean how can we explain that to the people?

I don't know how to communicate the gravity of the situation anymore.

Shall we do something else?

I'm ready.

I'm ready for more.

[The Bill Thing]

For this, we need two bills.

$1, $5, hold onto that one please.

Like this, so everybody can see.

And fold it this way, and once again that way, and once again this way.

Hold out your right hand.

Hold on there for a moment, I just want everybody to see $1 and $5.

Please close.

I have both of them.


Nothing in my hands, nothing up my sleeves.

Close, close, close and hold them there.

Now, I'm going to take out just one of the two bills.

Please open, open, open.

Like that.

Okay, close.

And hold them tight.

Against your chest.

I have the $1.

Whatever happens, whatever I say, whatever I do, hold on tight.






Open up!

Show them the $1!

Oh gosh...

Someone also opened the door just as you were doing it.

The right moment!

Because my attention was diverted and I was like...


So do you do this when you're buying a sandwich or something like that?

And you're just like oh, allow me to give you this $10 bill!

And then all of a sudden they're putting a $1 in the cash register.

To make things more scientific, I printed out a scientific study that was published

in the journal Nature, which is a very good journal!

Now this paper covers some psychological techniques that lead to us experiencing an illusion.

The main main aspect of close up magic is the psychological component of it.

Applied psychology.

The moves or the technique is never enough.

The applied psychology is the most important part of it.

Now there's a few psychological techniques at play.

One identified in the paper is misdirection - the diversion of the spectator's attention

away from a secret action.

But people think about the idea of misdirection, it's about distracting you.

Look over there while I do something over here.

But it could not be farther from the truth.

It's not about distracting, it's about guiding your attention.

And yes, another one of these techniques is guiding attention.

Newer objects - like pulling a rabbit out of a hat - are more salient, as are larger

movements over smaller ones.

Magicians may also guide your attention towards picking a card, and in that process, you'll

miss other movements.

This is a big secret in magic.

That the idea of guiding people's attention.

A fundamental principle in magic is that people are going to look where you are going to look.

If I show you this, you're going to look here.

If I look at you, because you cannot look at yourself, you're going to look at me.

So that dance of the glances can help you a lot.

That is a very very important psychological principle in magic.

The one technique that fascinated me the most was forcing - where a magician will try

to control your choice, subtly influencing your decision so you still feel like you made

the choice.

I mean, wouldn't that come in handy for some people?

You can fool all of the people some of the time or you can fool some of the people all

of the time.

But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

These ideas and techniques to influence people, they are not foolproof.

They would not work every single time.

It turns out there's not just one clever trick behind an illusion.

Our brains and behaviour are complex!

So to truly bamboozle us, practitioners like sleight of hand artists have to use all of

these psychological principles together.

With, of course, some fancy mechanical mastery of the cards themselves.

Magic, it seems, is a complex science.


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