Wising Up To Wiseman’s Tricks

I have a few odd claims to fame: I’ve sat on stage and guarded the saxophones and didgeridoo of Don Burrows during the aftermath of a concert held on my birthday. I’ve traveled from one side of Australia to the other by car four times during my life. And I’ve been a chauffeur for Dr Richard Wiseman.

The latter experience I had earlier this year, when he awarded my students prizes for their reports on critical thinking. Recently there’s been some reports on studies of Wiseman’s work, involving the ever-popular YouTube videos which have been a great example of viral marketing and buzz production for his book ‘Quirkology‘ and certainly a big drawcard for not only his Australian tour, but his US one.

The video for the ‘Colour Changing Card Trick‘ is Wiseman’s spin on the Simons & Chabris (1999) ‘Gorillas in our Midst‘ experiment. Everyone who has been to TAM3 would remember the experience of Wiseman’s presentation – you can read Wiseman’s book ‘Did You Spot the Gorilla’ and see the original ‘Surprising Studies’ video here. Even Dr Karl Kruszelnicki presented a variation whilst he was on tour for his book ‘Please Explain‘ in November, to the astonishment of a whole new audience of gorilla-puzzled people.

The Colour Changing Card Trick demonstrates a variation on the perceptual phenomenon known as ‘inattentional blindness’ – one of the cool things about this particular video is that it shows how the trick was done at around the 1.40 mark…. and it has led to further studies! Edinburgh University Post-doctoral researcher Tim J Smith, of the blog Continuity Boy, demonstrates via eye-tracking equipment an exploration as to why people are fooled by the changes in the Colour-Changing Card Trick – here’s a picture of how it was set up:


There’s also now a featured video that uses the aformentioned ‘Colour-Changing Card Trick’ which shows exactly where people are looking and illustrates how when one of the viewers notices the change (the red spot, which realises the shirt colour change), how their gaze location then begins to differ from everyone else’s (the majority of yellow spots).

Tim J Smith is the creator of a software tool called ‘Gazeatron’, which is what you can see being used throughout this video – as he explains on his blog:

The tool allows me to plot the gaze position of multiple viewers on to the video they were viewing. … Gazeatron allows you to see the same data in real-time as the video plays. By observing the swarming behaviour of the gaze positions whilst multiple viewers watch a film you gain an incredibly detailed insight into the viewing experience. Gazeatron also provides automated analysis for features of the eye movements to provide objective measures in supplement to the subjective observations.

…If you want to know more about the psychology of misdirection and its relationship to eye movements check out Gustav Kuhn’s research at the University of Durham.

You can watch the whole thing with the eyetracking data and a new voiceover by Dr Richard Wiseman here:

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Filed under Psychology, Science, Technology, You Tube

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