The Magic Grasp: Motor Expertise in Deception

Cristiana Cavina-Pratesi, Gustav Kuhn, Magdalena Ietswaart, David Milner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Most of us are poor at faking actions. Kinematic studies have shown that when pretending to pick up imagined objects (pantomimed actions), we move and shape our hands quite differently from when grasping real ones. These differences between real and pantomimed actions have been linked to separate brain pathways specialized for different kinds of visuomotor guidance. Yet professional magicians regularly use pantomimed actions to deceive audiences. In this study, we tested whether, despite their skill, magicians might still show kinematic differences between grasping actions made toward real versus imagined objects. We found that their pantomimed actions in fact closely resembled real grasps when the object was visible (but displaced) (Experiment 1), but failed to do so when the object was absent (Experiment 2). We suggest that although the occipito-parietal visuomotor system in the dorsal stream is designed to guide goal-directed actions, prolonged practice may enable it to calibrate actions based on visual inputs displaced from the action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e16568
JournalPLoS One
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2011


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