Not so bird-brained after all! Birds are less easily fooled by magic tricks than humans, study shows
- Cambridge scientists performed magic tricks on jays and human volunteers
- The experts performed three tricks – palming, the French drop and the fast pass
- The birds performed better on two of the three tricks compared to humans
Birds are less easily fooled by magic tricks than humans, a new bird sighting study reveals.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge performed three variations of magic tricks on six Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius), as well as on 80 human volunteers.
In general, the bird species was better able to perform two of the three tricks than humans, the experts found — although humans and jays performed about the same on the third trick.
Until this study, little was known about how non-human animals perceive “complicated techniques of deception” involved in magic tricks, the authors say.
They believe that studying animals’ reactions to tricks can unravel secrets about how their brains work.
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THE THREE TRICKS
– Palms: Concerns hiding an object in the palm while pretending the hand is empty.
– The French liquorice: involves pretending to transfer something from one palm to the other, without actually moving the object.
– The fast pass: involves moving an object between your hands so quickly that it is not seen.
The study was led by Elias Garcia-Pelegrin, a magician and cognitive scientist at the University of Cambridge.
Magic tricks can be a good tool “to examine the non-human animal mind,” he says in an article for The conversation.
“The study of how animals perceive magical effects that fool and surprise humans can help us understand how their minds perceive the world around them, and whether such experiences are somehow similar to ours,” he writes. .
“We performed three different magic tricks on Eurasian jays and human participants and compared their reactions.”
The three magic tricks used in the experiments — palming, French drop, and fast pass — all involve tricking the observer into thinking that an object may or may not have been transferred from one hand to the other.
For the Eurasian jays experiments, a worm was passed between Garcia-Pelegrin’s hand, which the birds were allowed to eat if they chose the right one.
In general, the birds outperformed humans at the palms and French licorice, but they were significantly fooled by the third technique – fast pass.
This means that Eurasian jays, just like humans, are prone to magical effects that involve quick movements.
“Unlike our human monster, which was significantly fooled by all three magical effects we performed, Eurasian jays did not seem to be fooled by the first two tricks,” Garcia-Pelegrin said.
“This may be because jays lack the expectations about hand mechanics that predispose us humans to these techniques of deception.”
The results are intriguing, in part because birds seemed to understand the intricacies of cunning hand movements, even though they don’t have hands themselves.
The birds may have just picked the hand in which they last saw the worm, while humans knew they were the subject of a trick, and so may have become more confused and unsure in making their choice.
Like humans, Eurasian jays are prone to magical effects involving fast movements bewegingen
“Eurasian jays do not appear to be misled by magical effects that rely on the observer’s intrinsic expectations when manipulating human objects,” Garcia-Pelegrin and his co-authors say in their research paper.
Deception isn’t entirely new to Corvids (birds in the crow family, which include the Eurasian jay and other jays, as well as ravens and magpies).
They discreetly hide food in one place while pretending to hide it in many other places to confuse food thieves.
“This clever family of birds uses complex and very elaborate protection tactics similar to the deception used by wizards,” says Garcia-Pelegrin.
The new study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
MAGICAL TRICKS CAN Reveal SECRETS ABOUT ANIMAL MINDS
Researchers from the University of Cambridge argue that magic tricks should be used to learn more about how the minds of animals work.
In an article in the journal Science, they say that “the application of magical effects to investigate the animal mind can lead to the comparison of behavioral responses between different species.”
Studying the ways magic tricks fool the brain may explain “blind spots” in perception.
In their paper, the authors suggest the same should be true for animals exposed to magic tricks.
Memorable viral videos of recent years have shown human-like reactions to magic tricks performed by primates other than humans.
But efforts must be made to understand what the animals in these videos are really thinking.
The researchers turn their attention to other types of animals — in their 2021 study, they tested Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) using three magic tricks.
In general, the bird species was better able to pull off two of the three tricks than humans, the experts found, although the humans and jays performed about the same on the third trick.