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What We Can Learn from Pickpockets

Credit: Voyagerix/Adobe

Credit: Voyagerix/Adobe

By Jack Brooks

Scientists are using the perceptual trickery of pickpockets and magicians as a new tool to study perceptual processing in the brain.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A man is walking through a bustling marketplace. He can feel the heat of the midday sun beating down on his back. He stops to peruse the spice stalls; the range of colours creates an explosion on the retina at the back of his eyes. The shouts of people bartering over grocery prices ring in his ears, masking the chatter and footsteps of others wandering the market. Hungry, hot and tired, he stops for a snack – the scents of the street food have gotten to him. He pauses here to make his choice, his mind momentarily unaware of the overpowering sensory stimuli of the marketplace, before turning to walk back to his hotel room. He reaches into his pocket but to his shock his wallet is missing. In this case he was the mark of a street pickpocket. This practice is commonly associated with this kind of scene, but is performed equally well on stage by magicians.

Let’s venture into a pickpocketing act, with each move briefly deconstructed using our current understanding of perception.

A magician calls for a volunteer from the audience. An old man is selected; he is wearing a coat and slacks. The magician holds him by the wrist and guides him up to the stage. Unbeknown to everyone the magician has already taken the man’s watch. By the time the watch was removed he had created the illusion that the watch was still on the wrist. It will be produced later.

Why was...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.