Do you think its possible to control someones attention? Even more than that, what about predicting human behavior? I think those are interesting ideas, if you could. I mean, for me, that would be the perfect superpower, actually kind of an evil way of approaching it. But for myself, in the past, Ive spent the last 20 years studying human behavior from a rather unorthodox way: picking pockets. When we think of misdirection, we think of something as looking off to the side, when actually its often the things that are right in front of us that are the hardest things to see, the things that you look at every day that youre blinded to.
For example, how many of you still have your cell phones on you right now? Great. Double-check. Make sure you still have them on you. I was doing some shopping beforehand. Now youve looked at them probably a few times today, but Im going to ask you a question about them. Without looking at your cell phone directly yet, can you remember the icon in the bottom right corner? Bring them out, check, and see how accurate you were. Howd you do? Show of hands. Did we get it?
Now that youre done looking at those, close them down, because every phone has something in common. No matter how you organize the icons, you still have a clock on the front. So, without looking at your phone, what time was it? You just looked at your clock, right? Its an interesting idea. Now, Ill ask you to take that a step further with a game of trust. Close your eyes. I realize Im asking you to do that while you just heard theres a pickpocket in the room, but close your eyes.
Now, youve been watching me for about 30 seconds. With your eyes closed, what am I wearing? Make your best guess. What color is my shirt? What color is my tie? Now open your eyes. By a show of hands, were you right?
Its interesting, isnt it? Some of us are a little bit more perceptive than others. It seems that way. But I have a different theory about that, that model of attention. They have fancy models of attention, Posners trinity model of attention. For me, I like to think of it very simple, like a surveillance system. Its kind of like you have all these fancy sensors, and inside your brain is a little security guard. For me, I like to call him Frank. So Frank is sitting at a desk. Hes got all sorts of cool information in front of him, high-tech equipment, hes got cameras, hes got a little phone that he can pick up, listen to the ears, all these senses, all these perceptions. But attention is what steers your perceptions, is what controls your reality. Its the gateway to the mind. If you dont attend to something, you cant be aware of it. But ironically, you can attend to something without being aware of it. Thats why theres the cocktail effect: When youre in a party, youre having conversations with someone, and yet you can recognize your name and you didnt even realize you were listening to that.
Now, for my job, I have to play with techniques to exploit this, to play with your attention as a limited resource. So if I could control how you spend your attention, if I could maybe steal your attention through a distraction. Now, instead of doing it like misdirection and throwing it off to the side, instead, what I choose to focus on is Frank, to be able to play with the Frank inside your head, your little security guard, and get you, instead of focusing on your external senses, just to go internal for a second. So if I ask you to access a memory, like, what is that? What just happened? Do you have a wallet? Do you have an American Express in your wallet? And when I do that, your Frank turns around. He accesses the file. He has to rewind the tape. And whats interesting is, he cant rewind the tape at the same time that hes trying to process new data.
Now, I mean, this sounds like a good theory, but I could talk for a long time and tell you lots of things, and they may be true, a portion of them, but I think its better if I tried to show that to you here live. So if I come down, Im going to do a little bit of shopping. Just hold still where you are.
Hello, how are you? Its lovely to see you. You did a wonderful job onstage. You have a lovely watch that doesnt come off very well. Do you have your ring as well? Good. Just taking inventory. Youre like a buffet. Its hard to tell where to start, theres so many great things.
Hi, how are you? Good to see you.
Hi, sir, could you stand up for me, please? Just right where you are. Oh, youre married. You follow directions well. Thats nice to meet you, sir. You dont have a whole lot inside your pockets. Anything down by the pocket over here? Hopefully so. Have a seat. There you go. Youre doing well.