The Science of Magic

Gustav Kuhn is a cognitive psychologist with a rather unique background – prior to becoming an academic, he worked as a semi-professional magician. Gustav now directs the MAGIC (Mind Attention and General Illusory Cognition) lab at Goldsmith, where he and his team members use magic to uncover the secrets of the human mind. 

Gustav is one of the leading researchers in the Science of Magic, and his research team spans a wide range of disciplines.  For example, Alice Pailhès is currently studying different types of forcing techniques to learn more about how magicians covertly influence people’s choices.  This research provides new insights into our understanding of free will, and the ease with which our mind can be manipulated. Other researchers of his team use eye tracking technologies to examine how magicians misdirect their audience’s attention in order to control what the audiences sees, and what it misses.

Over the last years, the MAGIC lab has staged large experiments in which psychology students witness fake mind-reading demonstrations to learn more about why people believe things that are impossible.  Goldsmiths is a truly unique place for magic research, and the MAGIC Lab strongly believes in using its findings to tackle real world problems.  For example, lab member Steve Bagienski is exploring the different ways in which magic can be used to enhance people’s wellbeing, and his paper has just been published by the World Health Organisation.  Steve’s findings show that magic offers a unique tool with which to enhance different aspects of our mental health and wellbeing.  This is why all psychology undergraduates at Goldsmiths are offered the chance to participate in magic workshops where they are taught to perform magic tricks. This pioneering research is still in its infancy, but the results suggest that the workshops have a positive impact on students’ self-esteem and general wellbeing.  The MAGIC lab is constantly exploring new ways in which its research findings can be put to use.  For instance, it is currently exploring how magic principles can be implemented to enhance the experience of computer games. In other work, it is developing computer bots that can perform magic tricks, in order to learn more about cyber deception and security. 

Gustav’s work often appears on Radio, TV and in the print press. He has also recently written a book on the psychology of magic, entitled Experiencing The Impossible.  You can read more about the MAGIC Lab’s exciting research in this article recently published in the Psychologist  Alternatively, here is a recording of a recent lecture Gustav gave at the Royal Institute: Be sure to have a listen if you want to learn more about why magic works!

Director of the MAGIC Lab, Dr Gustav Kuhn