The tricks more difficult than wizards they could have to do with a fairly basic technique for baffling the audience: blinking a lot.
This is at least indicated by an experiment, published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. “The researchers suggest that this tactic can be used to encourage synchronized blinking in the audience, so viewers are more likely to miss out on deceptive actions.”
“Before I was a scientist, I was a professional magician,” he explained. Anthony S. Barnhart, Associate Professor and Chair of Psychological Sciences at Carthage College. “My experiences as a magical performer showed me how fallible human perception and memory can be, which is why as a psychologist I frequently turn to magicians as a source of as-yet-unproven ideas about the mind. When learning magic, I was warned about the tendency of magicians to blink while performing sleight of hand in a rehearsal setting before a mirror, thus blinding themselves to any evidence of their competence (or lack thereof) with the deceitful action.
“I decided to look for empirical evidence for this behavior after perusing the literature on self-deception and realizing that the evidence to support the existence of deep self-deception (where a person knows the truth and actively pushes that truth out of their consciousness) was limited. If I had found evidence of this blinking behavior in wizards, it would have been one of the first solid pieces of evidence for deep self-delusion in the literature.”
The researchers analyzed footage of each performance and identified frames during which magicians either practiced hand sleights (experimental frames) or did not engage in hand sleights (control frames). They then coded these frames, noting whether the participants’ eyes were open or closed. Finally, they performed an analysis to see if the participants’ eye blinks differed depending on the condition (test vs. performance) and the type of frame (experimental vs. control).
The findings revealed that the wizards increased their blinking at times when they practiced acts of deception (ie, within experimental settings). Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, however, this was only true in the performance condition, when the magicians were performing the trick for a video audience. Other evidence revealed that magicians blinked more frequently when performing the most difficult acts of trickery, suggesting that their blink rates increased with cognitive exertion.
In particular, eye blinking tends to occur during times when visual information is scarce. If a magician increases their blink rate, this could indicate to the audience that there is nothing important to see.