A kind of magic: Enhanced detection of pantomimed grasps in professional magicians

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2020 Jul;73(7):1092-1100. doi: 10.1177/1747021820918533. Epub 2020 May 21.


Professional magicians regularly use pantomimed grasps (i.e., movements towards imagined objects) to deceive audiences. To do so, they learn to shape their hands similarly for real and pantomimed grasps. Here we tested whether this form of motor expertise provides them a significant benefit when processing pantomimed grasps. To this aim, in a one-interval discrimination design, we asked 17 professional magicians and 17 naïve controls to watch video clips of reach-to-grasp movements recorded from naïve participants and judge whether the observed movement was real or pantomimed. All video clips were edited to spatially occlude the grasped object (either present or imagined). Data were analysed within a drift diffusion model approach. Fitting different models showed that, whereas magicians and naïve performed similarly when observing real grasps, magicians had a specific advantage compared with naïve at discriminating pantomimed grasps. These findings suggest that motor expertise may be crucial for detecting relevant cues from hand movement during the discrimination of pantomimed grasps. Results are discussed in terms of motor recalibration.

Keywords: Pantomimed grasp; action processing; drift diffusion model; magicians; motor expertise; motor recalibration.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Deception*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*