All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Timothy Levine

Advisory Committee Members

Johnathan Amsbary

Darrin Griffin

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences


Truth default theory holds that people do not expect or notice deception unless they are triggered to think outside their natural tendency to believe others (Levine, 2020). It follows that people may not notice something deceptive or seemingly impossible if they are not first primed to raise suspicion. This study tests truth-default theory and triggering in the context of magic tricks. It hypothesized that people could watch two magic tricks performed without realizing they just witnessed something impossible because they were not primed to be aware of the presence of the possibility of deception. The research design is a three-group quasi-experiment with two conditions and a control. All participants (N = 408) witnessed a presentation, about 90 seconds long, about a fictious journalism club. Participants in one condition witnessed magic during the presentation without being primed while participants the second condition witnessed magic after being primed. Participants in the control were not primed and no magic occurred during that presentation. It was expected that participants who were primed would be much more likely to report they witnessed magic than those who were not primed. The results were consistent with the predictions. The percent of participants who were not primed and claimed they noticed magic was 16.3%, while 47.8% claimed they noticed magic after being primed. To the extent that there is an inherent element of deception in magic, the results support truth default theory’s assertion that a trigger event, like priming someone to the potential for magic, will change one’s cognitive state from its default truth-bias natural condition to one of suspicion. In a suspicious state of mind, people are more likely to detect deception or attempted deception including the deception involved in magic tricks.



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