Pick a Card, Any Card

Wendy Wu ’22

Figure 1: Kuhn et al.’s experimental procedure.

Magicians around the world have fascinated their audiences by performing the impossible. One of their signature acts is being able to predict a card randomly chosen. Rather than magical intuition, the magician’s predictive prowess is more likely due to an understanding of human nature. Gustav Kuhn, a Reader in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, sought to apply this understanding to the broader topic of the effects of unconscious bias on decision making and behavior. He was aware of a positional bias called placement force, or the preference for easily reached objects. Kuhn aimed to investigate the influence of placement force on participants’ behavior. His team hypothesized that they’d be able to force a card, or steer participants to choose a certain card, by employing this bias. 

Sixty applicants were asked individually to push forward one of four cards placed in a row on a table. The force card, or the card the scientists wanted to subtly pressure the participants into choosing, was placed as the third card from the left. It should be noted that this position is most accessible for those who use their right hand. The hand used to choose the card was recorded along with the card chosen. Participants were asked how free they felt their choice was. Those who picked the force card averaged a rating of 9/10 (10 representing very free). When asked how many people, out of 100, would choose the same card, the same participants underestimated the number. This shows that most participants were unaware of any bias, believing they chose randomly. 66% of participants who used their right hand chose the force card. Participants who used their right hand never chose card one, the card furthest from them. Participants who used their left hand never chose card four. This indicates that positional bias goes further than just physical location and is, instead, about ease of access. 

These observations suggest that our behavior is largely driven by unconscious biases. While we believe we have free will in our decisions and actions, we are unknowingly manipulated by external factors. This experiment allows us to study how our biases can be taken advantage of by magicians or others, like marketing companies. Placement force is just one of many psychological influences. Further research into different mental forces can help establish an understanding of the effects of bias on our choices and sense of freedom.

Works Cited:

[1] G. Kuhn, A. Pailhès, and Y. Lan, Forcing you to experience wonder: unconsciously biasing people’s choice through strategic physical positioning. Science Direct 80, (2020). doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2020.102902.

[2] Image retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810019304544#s0010


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