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Why Kids Are Better At Figuring Out Magic Tricks

Why Kids Are Better At Figuring Out Magic Tricks

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If a magician's life depended on fooling either an audience of adults or an audience of kids, every magician would rather perform for the adults, says Alex Stone, a lifelong magician and author of "Fooling Houdini."

In "Think Like A Freak," the new book from "Freakonomics" authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Stone explains why the average 8-year-old is much better than even the most brilliant adult at seeing through a magician's illusions.

The theory is based on the idea that kids operate without a lifetime's understanding of how the world works, "and magic is all about turning your assumptions and expectations against you," Stone says. "When you're pretending to shuffle a deck, they don't even notice you're shuffling."

Kids also have the benefit of wanting to actually figure out how things work, rather than filtering the truth through a particular worldview.

Stone uses a common sleight-of-hand trick known as a "double lift" as an example. In it, a magician presents the audience with two cards held together as if they were one. The technique allows the performer to show you "your card," seemingly stick it back into the deck, and have it appear back on top.

A kid may notice the slight difference in the thickness of two cards compared to one, while an adult on the lookout for a complex explanation could miss that detail.

And when an adult can't figure that trick out, Stone says, they'll come up with "the most cockamamie explanations," like hypnotism.

In addition to their difference in logical perception, kids also have the advantage of being shorter than adults. "Close-up magic" like Stone performs is meant to be seen from above, and since kids are closer to the ground, they have a better vantage point for observing a magician's technique. "This is a perfectly Freakish illustration of how, by seeing things from a literally new angle, you can sometimes gain an edge in solving a problem," write Levitt and Dubner.

They suggest you take a lesson from the kid who can see past a double-lift and try ridding yourself of pretense when faced with a problem. "Preconceptions lead us to rule out a huge set of possible solutions simply because they seem unlikely or repugnant; because they don't pass the smell test or have never been tried; because they don't seem sophisticated enough," they write.

"But remember, it was a child who finally pointed out that the Emperor's new clothes were in fact no clothes at all."