Microsaccades reflect the dynamics of misdirected attention in magic

Anthony S. Barnhart, Susana Martinez-Conde, Stephen L. Macknik, Francisco M. Costela, Stephen D. Goldinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The methods of magicians provide powerful tools for enhancing the ecological validity of laboratory studies of attention. The current research borrows a technique from magic to explore the relationship between microsaccades and covert attention under near-natural viewing conditions. We monitored participants’ eye movements as they viewed a magic trick where a coin placed beneath a napkin vanishes and reappears beneath another napkin. Many participants fail to see the coin move from one location to the other the first time around, thanks to the magician’s misdirection. However, previous research was unable to distinguish whether or not participants were fooled based on their eye movements. Here, we set out to determine if microsaccades may provide a window into the efficacy of the magician’s misdirection. In a multi-trial setting, participants monitored the location of the coin (which changed positions in half of the trials), while engaging in a delayed match-to-sample task at a different spatial location. Microsaccades onset times varied with task difficulty, and microsaccade directions indexed the locus of covert attention. Our com-bined results indicate that microsaccades may be a useful metric of covert attentional processes in applied and ecologically valid settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Eye Movement Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Eye movements
  • attention
  • divided attention
  • eye tracking
  • magic
  • microsaccades

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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