The psychology of illusion – @RogerDooley, @MattLTompkins

Magic and marketing both rely on directed attention. The conjurer directs the audience away from the palmed coin while the marketer directs it towards the big, shiny, buy button.

But attention is a fickle animal.

If you’ve never seen the video below, I urge you to watch it now. It’s just 1:21, but it’s impossible to view after you’ve listened to the podcast below.

Marketers have much to learn from magicians which is why neuromarketer Roger Dooley made this podcast with magician turned psychologist Matt Tompkins.

Dr Tompkins studies cognitive psychology and anomalistic psychology. His particular interest is what magical illusions (like sleight of hand or mentalism) tell us about how cognition works in general. As he says, the interaction of gaze, attention and actual awareness…

can be weirder than people tend to imagine, which is an overarching theme of my work.

In the podcast, he describes his work and how making coins disappear won him his place on the doctoral programme at University of Oxford.

He also talks about his new book and a current exhibition.

By strange coincidence, the exhibition had been on my To Do list for a few months and I finally got there last Sunday. It’s at the Wellcome Collection in Euston, London and is called Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of magic. If you have an interest in either psychology or magic, it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s free entry but it’s been running since April and closes on 15 September.

The alternative is to buy Tompkins’ book, The Spectacle of Illusion: Magic, the paranormal & the complicity of the mind. The book was written partly for the exhibition. (I’ve already ordered a copy, but let’s keep that a bit secret.)

Note: a version of this post also appeared on the Burning Pine blog.


Photo by Banter Snaps on Unsplash