In today’s episode, Joshua Jay plays a researcher! (Part 2)
Following up on part 1 here, we get the second half of analysis on the research done by Joshua Jay and the College of New Jersey. To reiterate what we said last time, yeah, we’re in a position where we might want to ask further questions on what was in the report, but there’s still good stuff there.
“Think of a…”
Every now and then people on the magic forums get the awesome idea to try to get a survey of randomly named cards, presumably to put that data to use in future magic presentations or possibly even effects, and it usually goes nowhere pretty quickly. Jay and his crack squad did the same thing, but with regular folks, and the data’s neat. I won’t spoil it. I will say that the ESP cards data is particularly intriguing, seeing as how two of the cards get more than 66% of initial interest. You might be in a position to use that information to “deny the effect”, an out strategy whereby you take a risk on an initial read, and if it pays off, you’ve got an extra effect, and if it doesn’t pay off, you skip it, pretend like it was never going to go anywhere, and move onto the main effect. Mentalists do this sort of thing all the time.
This is actually more about general demographics than just gender. Worth looking again to see what the distribution might be for things such as religion and belief in magical/paranormal phenomena.
“How do they really feel?”
Alright, this one is pretty interesting. If you’ve watched Joshua Jay’s DVD’s then you may have seen an interview he has with Simon Aronson where he talks about the importance of prestige and legitimacy in the eyes of the audience. In that interview he confesses that he goes to the extreme of wanting to be seen with custom-made cards because he feels it adds to his esteem in the eyes of the audience.
This is a potentially contentious issue, because it shows a deliberate aesthetic choice that risks compromising the credibility of the magic in order to highlight the status of the magician. We as magicians are usually force to wrestle with the problem of our props appearing innocent in order to remove questions and/or suspicions about our magic, and yet there Jay was essentially advocating that this is a secondary concern to making yourself look prestigious.
Maybe it’s just a bugbear for some of us. Dunno.
In any case, this particular section has less to do with that specific thing, and more to do with the steps that magicians can take in their introductions in order to garner more interest from audiences. Whether or not you disagree with Jay as I do on the idea of custom-made cards, the concept of performer prestige is a very real thing that you want to have a handle on when you start performing. On that front, there is interesting data here. Successful performers are very conscious of their branding, and there’s good stuff along those lines here.
This goes into the question of what an audience feels depending upon how much money they’ve spent watching a magic performance. The conclusion may feel obvious to those who’ve read up on the concept of “escalation of commitment” (a shiny-happy way of saying “sunk cost fallacy”), but it’s still good to know.
“Forgetting Card Tricks”
For a long time, we as magicians have dealt with the idea that all card tricks feel the same to regular audiences. Some treat it as practically axiomatic, whereas others think it’s wrong, as if it’s something that happens to only mediocre performers doing lousy card tricks. Jay’s research team adds a neat wrinkle to this discussion, where he talks about the memory retention aspect of it — meaning, what do people remember about the card tricks that they’ve seen? If you’ve studied your Vernon this isn’t new territory, but this time around we’ve got data!
For card trick lovers, the conclusion is worrisome. Basically, regular people have trouble remembering card tricks. Not that this happens 100% of the time, but it does happen often enough to be of concern.
How do we fix this? The usual answer is to make sure there’s clarity of plot. The research paper offers another neat idea — make sure to use some other object that has nothing to do with cards. Have a card go through a window or end up inside an orange or something else along those lines.
Now, one unfortunate part of the way Jay phrased his results is that in suggesting ways to incorporate external objects, he mentions the idea of having a card jump into their pocket. This is one place where I think the research maybe needed to be a bit more nuanced. If you’ve performed for people, you know the strength of having something apparently change in their hands. Now, if a trick where a card ends up in their pocket is memorable, what’s the biggest factor in play? The external object is a pocket. But, is it the pocket itself? Or is it the fact that the pocket belongs to them? What’s more, what would happen if we measured the memory retention of these two tricks: one where the card jumps to the magician’s pocket, or one where the card changes in their hands? Obviously I don’t have my own research team to attack that question, but I suspect that having it end up in their hands would play stronger. But, that aspect of card tricks was not clearly covered here. I think that’s a shame.
“How did they do it?”
This portion has a bit in common with the earlier discussion about what audiences love and hate about magic. If you can remember, surprise was a hugely important factor. In this section, though, the people being surveyed were asked to figure out how much they wanted to know the secret to the trick, as compared to other possible reactions to the trick. As it turns out only 10% of people watching want to know the secret to a trick they’ve seen, whereas more people were interested in things related to not knowing (being surprised, being amazed, not knowing how tricks were done, etc.).
There’s some further research that talks about how the mindset of trying to figure out the trick relates to age, as well as how the effect itself might tempt them to solve it. I’ll leave it for you to read. There’s some fun stuff there.
This has more in-depth information on what people’s preconceived notions are with regards to magic and the paranormal. It’s worth reading. Mentalists and Bizarrists in particular ought to find this really interesting.
This is basically Jay’s conclusion on the research paper. Best to just read it directly.
Conclusion to Part 2
I hope my criticisms don’t undercut the work Jay and his team did with this, because there’s a lot of good data here that’s worth diving into. If nothing else, hopefully we’ll see more appreciation in the community for how regular people view magic and magicians. There’s a lot that we can learn from this sort of thing.