Not convincing

ScienceDaily has an item on research by G.Kuhn and others on whether autism would effect the perception of illusions. (here) I find this research unconvincing as reported by ScienceDaily. As the original paper is not free on line, I have not been able to read it.

Magicians rely on misdirection — drawing attention to one place while they’re carrying out their tricky business somewhere else. It seems like people with autism should be less susceptible to such social manipulation. But a new study in the U.K. finds that people with autism spectrum disorder are actually more likely to be taken in by the vanishing ball trick, where a magician pretends to throw a ball in the air but actually hides it in his hand.

There appears to be an assumption that all magic tricks rely on social manipulation. Manipulation yes, but not always social manipulation. This illusion has nothing to do with social clues and it can be done with an obviously mechanical machine. The illusion is due to the prediction of a motion in the consciousness. Everyone who has a conscious awareness of the event will see the ball leave the hand as it did on several previous movements of the hand. This type of illusion is well known and well studied.

I am sure that it is a good idea to use illusions to understand conditions like autism, but it would be a good course to first understand why the illusion works for normal people.

The researchers keep ‘digging’ when they try to explain the results (at least in the ScienceDaily summary). Conscious experience is not a simple, straight forward phenomenon that can just be taken at face value especially when looking at illusions. All magician’s tricks are not based on just social manipulation.

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