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Using sleight of hand to investigate human action perception in diverse species and taxa

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Deceptive tactics depend on the deceiver being able to trick their victim. Magicians and pickpockets are successful in misleading their victim (or audience) because their techniques capitalise on human’s perceptual predispositions. Intricate sleight of hand movements (i.e., range of techniques involving hand motions commonly used by both magicians and pickpockets to deceive fellow human observers) capitalise on the observer’s inherent expectations of human actions. Consequently, the application of these deceptive motions to investigate the non-human mind can yield great insight into the evolution and inner workings of the expectations exploited by these techniques. Are these expectations unique to humans? Can we explain similarities and disparities in perceptual predispositions because of cognitive capacity, neural structure, or other physical features? The answer to these questions is of fundamental importance for understanding the evolution of cognition across species, and to determine how non-human animals perceive human actions. In this presentation, I will explore these questions by reviewing the most recent studies with members of the corvid family and non-human primates to illustrate how the intersection between deceptive techniques and science can yield invaluable insight into the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms of both human and non-human animals.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Science Society series.

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