Choice Of Magics
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In stage magic, a force is a method of controlling a choice made by a spectator during a trick. Some forces are performed physically using sleight of hand, such as a trick where a spectator appears to select a random card from a deck but is instead handed a known card by the magician. Other forces use equivocation (or "the magician's choice") to create the illusion of a free decision in a situation where all choices lead to the same outcome.
Equivocation (or the magician's choice) is a verbal technique by which a magician gives an audience member an apparently free choice, but frames the next stage of the trick in such a way that each choice has the same end result.
The effectiveness of equivocation involves the "information gap" between what the spectator knows and what the spectator thinks he knows. In the magician's force, the spectator does not know anything about what will happen to the two cards he initially selects. However, the spectator thinks that he is making a free choice in an otherwise scripted sequence of moves.
Equivocation tends to lose its effectiveness if repeated in the same context, since the spectator gains more information from one performance to the next, thereby shrinking the information gap. For example, a spectator may wonder why his choice was kept in some cases and discarded in others.
While more recent, non-fraudulent studies have suggested that priming can influence people's choices, those studies have limitations. For instance, the choices subjects can make are usually limited to two or three options, and the experiments are generally done in a tightly controlled laboratory setting, rather than a more natural real-world environment. But there is substantial anecdotal evidence that the forcing techniques used by magicians are effective; it just hadn't been studied scientifically. And unlike typical free choice paradigms tested in labs, such techniques are subtly integrated into performances.
Alice Pailhès, a psychologist at Goldsmiths University of London and co-author of the PNAS paper, is well aware of the checkered history and longstanding difficulty in replicating social psychology experiments on priming effects. But she feels confident in the use of magicians' techniques in her own work on how unconscious factors can influence choice, since they rely on tightly controlled scripts and actions, while still being embedded in a natural, conversational environment. She started implementing magic tricks while still a graduate student in France. "I love magic, and I quickly realized that magicians are the best to influence choices," she told Ars.
Afterward, participants wrote down the card they chose and rated how free and in control they felt about their choice. "Participants' feeling of freedom is one of the key elements of a successful forcing technique," the authors wrote. "If the magician manages to force a card, but this person feels constraint and not free in their choice, the trick no longer work[s]." Those measures also enabled the researchers to assess how aware the participants were of the attempts to manipulate their choice by asking if they had noticed any gestures on the part of the performer.
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