BEST IELTS Academic Reading Test 463

BEST IELTS Academic Reading Test 463

IELTS Academic Reading Test

Trick and cheat By Alok Jha

There’s no denying the effects of a good magic trick. From the great escapes of Houdini and the surreal mental trickery of Derren Brown to the conjurors at children’s parties, the appeal is universal.

“Magic’s been around for a very long time and it improves over time,” says Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at Hertfordshire University. “What you’re looking at when you see a finished piece of magic is a great deal of expertise, and I think psychologists have a lot to learn from that.”

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But, not content with just enjoying the tricks, psychologists are now using their effects on the mind to work out how we handle the floods of sensory information coming into our brains and process it into a mental picture of the world around us. Magic is a deception, a disruption of that orderly mental picture where things seem to float in mid-air or coins and cards vanish in front of our eyes. Scientists now believe that, by mapping out how our brains are deceived, they could even help to unlock some of the mysteries of consciousness itself.

“Over the last five years, there’s been a reawakening as we look at things like change blindness [a failure to see large changes in a visual scene] and at the fact that consciousness is a construction and may even be an illusion,” says Wiseman, himself an accomplished magician and member of the Magic Circle. “Now there’s a recognition that magicians are doing something very special.”

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Magic is all about convincing others that the impossible has just happened. And that deception is achieved with a high degree of skill and showmanship.

“We’re starting to realise that magicians have a lot of implicit knowledge about how we perceive the world around us because they have to deceive us in terms of controlling attention, exploiting the assumptions we make when we do and don’t notice a change in our environment,” says Wiseman. “There is an enormous amount of really detailed instruction on how to perform magic.”

A card trick that lasts four or five minutes, for example, might have 20 pages of detailed text to describe exactly where to look, what to say, what to do and so on. And a lot of the understanding of a trick has to be from the perspective of the audience.

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While the magician’s dexterity is important, the audience is also a vital participant in the deception. After all, it is in their minds that the illusion is created. “Magicians seem to be able to carry out secret actions in front of their audience without being spotted. I’m interested in why people don’t perceive those actions,” says Gustav Kuhn, a psychologist at Durham University.

A simple example of misdirection is used in the coin drop trick. “What you’re doing there is pretending to take the coin from one hand to the other but, in fact, leaving it in the original hand,” says Wiseman. “What’s important is that you’re looking where you want the audience to look. In terms of movement, you’re moving the hand that doesn’t contain the coin to attract people’s attention over to that hand.”

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Psychologists can use such tricks to catch a glimpse into how our minds interpret the world around us. “Magicians are manipulating your consciousness. They are showing you something impossible,” says Wiseman. “They’re getting you to construct a narrative which simply isn’t true. So that means they know how to make you aware of certain things and blind to other things. What I’m hoping is that magic, this entertainment vehicle that has been around for a long time, will give us a real insight into the deep mysteries of consciousness.”

Our brains filter out a huge amount of the mass of sensory input flooding in. Kuhn explains that we see what we expect to see and what our brains are interested in. “Our visual representation of the world is much more impoverished than we would assume. People can be looking at something without being aware of it. Perception doesn’t just involve looking at an object but attending to it.”

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In Kuhn’s recent work, he performed a trick where a cigarette seems to disappear. It involved no sleight of hand or secret. It was a simple case of dropping the cigarette into his lap. “It happens right in front of the spectator’s eyes but I misdirect their attention away from the cigarette,” says Kuhn.

While his spectators watched, they wore eye trackers. It is known that we only receive highquality information from the area we are fixated on, right in the centre of our field of view. If you stretch out your arm, it is about two thumbs’ width at the centre of your vision – everything else is pretty much blurred. The way we compensate for this is to move our eyes around to fill in the gaps and create a better picture of the world around us.

Kuhn’s results, to be published in the journal Perception, showed that simply staring at the location of the deception was not enough for people to discover how the trick happened.

“People could be looking very close to where the cigarette was being dropped without even seeing it,” he says. “Other people were looking quite far away but they did actually spot the cigarette.

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“What it shows is just how much of the picture in our head of our surroundings is a massive construction, based on expectations, what we think is important, what we normally encounter and so on,” says Wiseman. “And that’s what magicians are very good at exploiting.”

Of course, magic is more than just surprise, so the researchers will be looking for something more. “When you’re watching magic, there is just a split second when you’re in disbelief and that’s what we’re looking for, that exact moment,” according to Ben Parris at Exeter University’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. “The magic spot.”

But while psychologists slowly get to grips with the way magicians manage to trick our brains, is there not a risk that the magic will lose its power? That it will cease to be amazing? Wiseman thinks not. “What we get is a more informed audience,” he says. “It’s a little bit like juggling – you appreciate the juggler more once you’ve tried to juggle three balls and then you suddenly realise how hard it is to juggle seven.”

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The research will have benefits for the practitioners of magic, too. “What they will realise is that the human mind is a lot more fallible than we magicians expect,” says Kuhn. “Maybe magicians are too careful in the way they conceal their secrets in front of an audience. They can probably get away with quite a bit more.”

The box below gives a list of answers A-I to the Questions 15-19.

Answer the questions by choosing the correct answers A-I.

15. What did Wiseman say that a magic act contains?

16. What are psychologists employing the effects of magic to do?

17. What does Wiseman say that consciousness is?

18. How are people deceived by magic?

19. What are psychologists beginning to understand about magicians and their acts?

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a) The magic act has little skill but lots of know-how.

b) Magicians have a lot of knowledge about how people see what is around them.

c) They are taken in with a high degree of skill and showmanship.

d) Consciousness is purely an illusion.

e) Psychologists are now figuring out how people create a mental image of the masses of information the brain receives.

f) Psychologists have a lot of knowledge about how people see what is around them.

g) Consciousness is something which people construct and is possibly even an illusion.

h) A finished piece of magic has a lot of skill or know-how.

i) Magicians have difficulty understanding how people create a mental image of all the information the brain receives.

IELTS Academic Reading Test

Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 2?

In boxes 20-27 on your answer sheet write:

TRUE – if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE – if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN – if there is no information on this

20. The performance of a card trick might require pages of instruction.

21. The audience’s perception of a trick is more important than the magician’s ability to perform it.

22. Psychologists can make use of the tricks that magicians employ.

23. The human brain limits information coming into it.

24. The picture people have in their heads of what they see is a construction of their expectations and so on.

25. Magic does not just rely on the element of surprise.

26. Research into magic will benefit neither the magicians nor psychologists.

27. Magic will benefit psychologists and their patients considerably.

IELTS Academic Reading Test

IELTS Academic Reading Test

Choose the correct letter A, B, C, D or E.

Which of the following is the most suitable title for Reading Passage 2?

A. How easily a psychologist can fool a patient

B. How easily a magician can fool an audience

C. Cheating patients

D. The way magicians perceive the world

E. The slowness of the human brain

IELTS Academic Reading Test


BEST IELTS Academic Reading Test 463

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15. H

16. E

17. G

18. C

19. B

20. TRUE


22. TRUE

23. TRUE

24. TRUE

25. TRUE



28. B

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