Meet the scientists who perform magic tricks on birds

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Performing magic tricks with Eurasian jays helps scientists to recognize the animals’ powers of perception, but besides their quality to work minds, retrieve the past and expect the future.

Mind 22 December 2021

By Sam Wong

Psychologists person agelong studied however magic deceives us. Illusionists exploit shortcomings successful our attraction and cognition to forestall america seeing what is successful beforehand of our eyes, and learning however their tricks enactment tin uncover a large woody astir however our minds work.

I visited a squad of scientists led by Nicola Clayton astatine the University of Cambridge, who judge that the aforesaid applies to animals. Working with magician Clive Wilkins, who is artist-in-residence astatine the section of psychology, they are devising ways to trial animals’ cognitive abilities utilizing types of magic tricks designed to fool humans.

Their archetypal subjects are Eurasian jays. These birds, known for their intelligence, are susceptible of feats resembling magic tricks successful the wild. Like crows and different members of the corvid family, they fell nutrient to retrieve later. If different jay is watching, they whitethorn unreal to stash their nutrient successful aggregate places truthful that the perceiver doesn’t cognize wherever it is – alternatively similar a magician performing a cups-and-balls trick. They tin adjacent fell items successful a pharynx pouch, conscionable arsenic magicians usage concealed pockets.

Team subordinate Elias Garcia-Pelegrin, who is besides a magician, tested whether the birds would autumn for a bid of sleight-of-hand tricks by concealing a worm successful 1 of his hands, and grooming the birds to peck his thumb to amusement wherever they thought the dainty was.

Experiments similar this mightiness archer america not lone astir animals’ powers of perception, but besides their quality to work minds, retrieve the past and expect the future.

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