Magician and Phd student Hugo Caffaratti to analyse magic moments
A card trick may seem like an unusual way to investigate the brain's powers of observation, but for magician Hugo Caffaratti, it's all in a day's work.
The 31-year-old, who has 12 years' experience of magic, specialising in cards tricks, and is a member of the Spanish Society of Illusionism, has started a PhD with the University of Leicester's Centre for Systems Neuroscience.
Hugo, who is also qualified in biomedical engineering, is combining both interests as part of the course to investigate how our brains perceive what actually happens before our eyes – and how our attention can be drawn away from important details.
He also plans to study "forced choice", a tool often used by magicians where we are fooled into thinking we have made a free choice – such as choosing a particular card.
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Hugo said: "I've always been interested in the study of the brain, so it's amazing to be involved in the process of combining the disciplines of neuro-science and magic.
"I'm really interested in the fields of decision-making and forced choice.
"It's incredible how many times a day we make a decision and feel free.
"We often don't realise that we have been forced to make that decision.
"I'm constructing an experiment to study what happens when we make forced decisions – to try to find the reasons for it.
"As part of that I'm now thinking about which kinds of tricks I know could be useful to give more insights about brain function."
Among his experiments, Hugo will ask participants to watch videos of card trick performances, while sitting in front of an eye-tracker device. This will allow him to monitor where their attention is focused during illusions – and how their brains can be deceived when their eyes miss the whole picture.
He will work under the tutelage of Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, director of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience at the university.
He said: "Hugo's PhD will look at decision-making and attention – and although he is doing his first steps in neuroscience, I think he already has a lot of expertise in this area based on his training as a magician.
"Magic theory has thousands of years of experience. Magicians have been answering similar questions that we have in the lab, and they have an intuitive knowledge of how the mind works.
"Hugo will likely bring a fresh view on how to address questions we deal with in neuroscience."
Hugo is also keen to carry on with his work in magic while studying for his PhD, and is hoping to perform in bars in Leicester while staying in the city.
In addition, he has also applied for membership with The Magic Circle – a prestigious magic society of London and will have to sit exams to prove his magical mettle in order to join the exclusive club.