Daily Archives: August 13, 2008

The psychology of magic

The NY Times reports on the perception processes underlying magic tricks:

Eye-grabbing distractions — to mask a palmed card or coin, say — are only the crudest ways to exploit brain processes that allow for more subtle manipulations, good magicians learn.

In a paper published last week in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, a team of brain scientists and prominent magicians described how magic tricks, both simple and spectacular, take advantage of glitches in how the brain constructs a model of the outside world from moment to moment, or what we think of as objective reality.


Sprinter’s speed off the block tied to brain structure

The Washington Post reports:

…Every sprinter in the Olympics ought to think about starting with his or her right foot in the rear position.

That’s the surprising conclusion of an unusual new piece of research that ties sprinters’ speed off the starting blocks with the structure of the human brain. All athletes, both experienced runners and novices, appear to be faster getting off the blocks when they start with the right foot in the rear position, regardless of whether they are right-footed or left-footed, and also whether they are used to a particular stance.

As nearly everyone knows, the human brain is divided into two hemispheres. Each hemisphere largely controls the movement of the opposite side of the body — your left hemisphere moves your right hand and leg, while your right hemisphere directs your left side.

It has also been known for years that this hemispheric division of labor produces a minute difference in two aspects of movement: how quickly you can start to do something, and how quickly you can carry out the movement.

The difference seems to arise because the right hemisphere of the brain also plays a central role in reaction time, whereas the left hemisphere of the brain plays a larger role in overall movement control. When a task is primarily about reaction speed, people tend to be faster with their left hand because it takes less time for the right hemisphere to “talk to itself” than to tell the left hemisphere to move the right hand or foot.

But when it comes to movement — in the case of sprinters, coming off the blocks and beginning the first step — people tend to be faster with the right hand and foot. That’s because the left hemisphere plays a dominant role in movement generally and moving the right side in particular.