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What does magic tell us about free will?

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  • UserGustav Kuhn (Goldsmiths, University of London)
  • ClockFriday 26 November 2021, 16:15-17:30
  • HouseZoom meeting.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Yasmin Fouani-Eckstein.

Magicians amaze their audiences by creating illusions that allow you to experience the impossible. In the MAGIC lab, we study magic tricks to gain insights into the nature of these magical experiences, as well as the psychological mechanism that underpin them. In this talk I will focus on the principle of forcing. Forcing is a magic technique used to covertly influence a person’s choice. I will examine our new framework on forcing which distinguished between techniques in which magicians covertly influence a person’s decision (decision forces) or the outcome of a decision (outcome forces). I will then present empirical studies on forcing to illuminate the psychological mechanisms that underpin them. Some of these forces rely on priming, such as when hand gestures are used to prime the spectator to name a particular playing card. Other forces rely on exploiting cognitive biases, such as when playing cards are placed in more prominant physical locations. Our empirical investigations reveal the ease by which people’s decisions can be influenced and people’s obliviousness towards these influences. In the final part I will examine empirical studies on outcome forces. These studies demonstrate that people often fail to realize that their decisions have no impact on the outcome of the decision. Our research on forcing illustrates the ease by which our mind can be influenced and manipulated. These findings add to the view that our sense of free will is a compelling illusion.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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