Professors Reveal the Tricks Behind Mentalists

Published: August 29, 2014 | Author: Jessica Young | Read Time: 3 minutes

He stands before you with gray sneakers on. One shoes’ laces seem aimlessly untied, but without bending over, mentalist and illusionist Wayne Hoffman jiggles his foot a few times and bam, laces are now neatly in a bow.

Before Hoffman comes to campus as part of Southern Utah University’s 2014 Welcome Week, a few psychology professors took note of how Hoffman appears to have telepathic, clairvoyant, psychokinetic and precognitive abilities.

Bradley Gregory, assistant psychology professor, says its not magic, but merely cognitive perception that makes Hoffman convincing.

“Mentalists have an acute ability to observe their surroundings, notice things that you and I would never catch, making them seem that they have these psychic abilities,” stated Gregory. “This ability to notice the minute leads people to believe that mentalists are breaking the laws of physics and can read minds.”

Gregory went on to give the example of the Barnum Effect. This is utilized when mentalists, like Hoffman, ask blanket statements that apply to most people, such as “at times you have serious doubts whether you have made the right choose or done the right thing.”

This trick doesn’t take away from the skill that mentalists must have to deceive the minds of the hundreds of people in their audiences; it takes immense expertise and knowledge according to Gregory.

“They must be able to detect micro expressions in our body language, all while distracting the audience,” said Gregory.

He adds, “Humans are also a lot more suggestible than we wish we were. We can be easily tricked into thinking something broke the laws of physics, when really it was just some slight of hand.”

Gregory, along with his colleague Garrett Strosser, assistant professor of psychology, explained another trick that mentalists use is leading people to believe that the effect happened before the cause, such as knowing the card you’ve picked before you picked it. It’s done by simply stacking the cards in the mentalists favor or asking you to think in your mind what card you have, and without knowing it we accidentally mouth the card. And because of the mentalist’s keen observation skills, he then knows what card you are holding.

If mentalists employs trickery, than why are they so effective and leave crowds astonished? Strosser answered that by saying, “We all like to be surprised. We like to have the mental challenge of figuring out how something happened and it’s exciting to see the rules of nature supposedly bent.”

Though Hoffman may not be producing magic on the stage tonight in SUU’s Sharwan Smith Student Center Ballroom, he will be employing his keen ability to observe and utilize his acute power to distract the audience.

Think you can catch him? Think again. Hoffman has been traveling the world performing on stages from China to Ellen DeGeneres, each time leaving his audience in complete awe. So whether it’s magic or trickery, we will leave that up to you decide.

Hoffman will perform Friday, August 29 at 6 p.m. in the Ballroom. The event is free for all students and SUU employees. Seating will first go to students, and based on availability, non-students will be allowed to enter. Must present SUU ID card at the door.

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