Background and aims: Lecturers often present entertaining videos, or organize a variety of amusing demonstrations, to foster student engagement or to encourage critical analysis. Magic tricks, in particular, have been shown to activate neural circuits that underpin motivation or problem-solving and, therefore, could be beneficial during lectures. Nevertheless, we hypothesize that, unless the method that underpins these tricks is revealed, students may ruminate over possible explanations, distracting attention from the lecture material.
Sample and methods: To test these arguments, in this study, 224 participants watched a video of a magic performance, watched a video of a circus act, or watched no video at all. In half the participants who watched the magic performance, the secret that underpinned the trick was disclosed. Next, participants watched a psychology tutorial, before answering questions that assessed engagement, need for cognition, and comprehension of the material.
Results: If the secret was withheld, magic tricks diminished subsequent need for cognition but did not affect comprehension. Furthermore, magic tricks tended to diminish engagement with the subsequent tutorial. These effects, however, were small.
Conclusion: Future research is warranted to ascertain whether information that is embedded within a magic trick, rather than presented after the trick, is more likely to be remembered or understood later. This research could clarify when performance can enhance or disrupt student engagement.