New Study Shows That Babies Can Learn from Watching Magic

Innocent glance

We have already talked about how watching magic can have a positive effect on the imaginations and creative problem solving of four- to six-year-olds. A newer study shows that magic can have just as profound of an effect on an even younger crowd: babies.

A new study published in the Science academic journal revealed that even children less than a year old can appreciate magic in unexpected ways. Babies were shown simple magic tricks that defied basic concepts of motion and physics. To the surprise of the researchers, the babies were able to pick up on the unusual events and showed more intentioned curiosity when examining the objects used in the trick.

This finding shows not only that babies have already developed a small sense of universal logic even at a young age, but that defying this logic through magic heightens brain activity and a desire to learn.

The Study

A selection of 110 11-month-old infants were chosen to watch their very own magic show at a Johns Hopkins research lab. The tricks were performed on a darkened, box-like stage similar to a puppet show display. Babies were shown two simple tricks:

  • A ball was rolled down a ramp towards two solid-looking walls. The ball disappeared behind a cover just before it struck the first wall. The cover was removed to reveal that the ball was in between the two walls without having knocked either down.
  • A plastic toy train was hooked onto a track hidden within the background. When the train was pushed off of a platform, it stayed on the track, appearing to “float” rather than fall down

These abnormal events captured the attention of the babies more than expected. Despite an infant’s tiny attention span, upon noticing the trick they were captivated.

Even more interesting, the babies were given an assortment of toys to choose and they inevitably chose the ones used in the magic displays. They would hit the ball on the table, as if to see if it was solid, and they would drop the toy train, as if to see if it would float again. The babies had much longer periods of focus when examining these objects compared to other ones, as well.

Magic Can Amaze More Than Babies

While tricking a bunch of infants may not seem like a tall feat, the interesting revelation is the effect reality-defying acts have on the psyche of someone so young. The babies seemed to have in-built expectations of how objects behave, and when these expectations were shattered, they essentially wanted to know “what was up.” Their attempts to learn through the observation were also interesting from a developmental standpoint.

Adults can get the same benefits when watching close up magic or mentalists in Miami. A mentalist’s antics not only amuse, they give people cause to question and learn. Visit our magic videos page to see Mio’s expert mentalism in action.