The art of misdirection | Apollo Robbins (2023)


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Hailed as the greatest pickpocket in the world, Apollo Robbins studies the quirks of human behavior as he steals your watch. In a hilarious demonstration, Robbins samples the buffet of the TEDGlobal 2013 audience, showing how the flaws in our perception make it possible to swipe a wallet and leave it on its owner's shoulder while they remain clueless.

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Do, you think it's possible to control someone's attention? Even more than that.

What about predicting human behavior? I think those are interesting, ideas.

For me,! That would be the perfect superpower, actually kind of an evil way of approaching it.

But for myself, in the past, I've spent the last 20 years, studying human behavior from a rather unorthodox way:, picking, pockets.


We think of misdirection.

We think of something as looking off to the side, when actually the things right in front of us are often the hardest to see, the things that you look at every day that you're 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.

I was doing some shopping.


(Laughter) You've looked at them a few times today, but I'll.

Ask you a question.

Without, looking at it directly yet.

Can you remember the icon in the bottom right, corner?, Bring them out, check and see how accurate you were.

How'd you do? Show of hands.


We get it? Now that you're done, close them.


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? Interesting idea.


Take that a step further with a game of trust.


Your eyes.

I realize I'm asking you to do that.

While you just heard there's a pickpocket in the room, but close your eyes.

Now, you've 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.

Show of hands,? Were you right? Interesting,? Isn't it? Some of us are a little bit more perceptive than others, it seems.

But I have a different theory about that model of attention.

They have fancy models of attention, Posner's trinity model of attention.

For me, I, like to think of it very simple, like a surveillance, system., It's kind of like you have all these fancy sensors, and inside your brain is a little security.


For me, I like to call him Frank.

So Frank is sitting at a desk.

He's got lots of cool information in front of him, high-tech equipment, he's got cameras, he's 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, it's? What controls your reality.

It's, the gateway to the mind.

If? You don't attend to something.

You can't be aware of it.

But ironically.

You can attend to something without being aware of it.

For example, the cocktail effect: You're in a party, having conversations with someone, and yet you can recognize your name without realizing.

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.


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 security guard, and get you, instead of focusing on your external senses, just to go internal for a second.


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.

What's interesting is.

He can't rewind the tape at the same time that he's trying to process new data.

This sounds like a good theory, but I could talk for a long time, tell you lots of things, and a portion of them may be true, but I.

Think it's better.

If I tried to show that to you here, live.

If I come down, I'm, going to do a bit of shopping.

Just hold still where you are.


How are you? It's lovely to see you.

Wonderful job onstage., Lovely watch.

It doesn't come off very well.


You have a ring as well? Good.

Just taking inventory.

You're like a buffet.

Hard, to tell where to start.

So many great things.


How are you? Good to see you.

Hi, sir,? Could you stand up, please?, Just right where you are.

You're married, you follow directions: well.

Nice to meet you, sir.

You! Don't have a lot in your pockets.

Anything down here? Hopefully so.

Have, a seat.

There you go.

You're, doing well.

Hi, sir.

How are you? Good to see you, sir.

You have a ring, a watch.


You have a wallet on you? Joe:, I, don't., AR: Well, we'll find one for you.


On up this way, Joe.

Give Joe a round of applause.

Come on up, Joe.

Let's play a game., (Applause) AR:, Pardon, me.


Don't think I need this clicker anymore.

Thank, you very much.

I appreciate that.


On up to the stage, Joe.

Let's play a little game: now.

Anything in your front, pockets? J:, Money., AR:, Money!, All right.

Let's try that.

Can! You stand right over this way for me? Turn around and, let's see.

If I give you something that belongs to me.

This is just something: I have, a poker chip.

Hold out your hand for me.

Watch it closely.

This is a task for you to focus.



Have your money in your front: pocket?, J:, Yup., AR:, Good.

I, won't put my hand in your pocket.

I'm, not ready for that kind of commitment.

Once a guy had a hole in his pocket, and that was rather traumatizing for me.

I wanted his wallet.

He gave me his number.

Big miscommunication.

(Laughter) Let's.

Do this simply.

Squeeze your hand, tight.

Do, you feel the poker chip in your hand? J: I, do., AR: Would.

You be surprised if I took it? Say yes.

J:, Very., AR:, Good.

Open, your hand.

Thank, you very much.

I'll cheat.

If you give me a chance.

Make it harder for me.

Just use your hand.

Grab, my wrist, but squeeze, squeeze firm.


You see it go? Joe:, No., AR: No, it's not here.

Open, your hand.

While we're focused on the hand, it's sitting on your shoulder.

Go ahead and take it off.


Let's try that again.

Hold your hand out flat.


It up.

Put your hand up a little bit higher, but watch it close.

If I.

Did it slowly, it'd, be on your shoulder.

(Laughter) Joe, we're going to keep doing this till you catch it.

You'll get it eventually.

I have faith in you.

Squeeze, firm., You're, human, you're, not slow.

It's! Back on your shoulder.

You were focused on your hand, distracted.


You were watching, I.

Couldn't get your watch off.

Yet! You had something inside your pocket.


You remember what it was? J: Money.

AR: Check your pocket.


It still there? (Laughter) Oh, there.

It was.

Put it away.

We're, just shopping.

This trick's more about the timing.

I'm going to try to push it inside your hand.

Put your other hand on top, would you? It's.

Amazingly obvious: now, isn't it? Looks a lot like the watch.

I was wearing, doesn't it? (Laughter) (Applause) J: That's, pretty good.

AR: Oh, thanks.

(Applause) But.

It's only a start.


Try it a little bit differently.

Hold your hands, together.

Your other hand on top., If you're, watching this little token.

This obviously has become a little target, like a red herring.


We watch this kind of close.

It looks like it goes: away.

It's, not back on your shoulder.

It falls out of the air, lands right back in the hand.


You see it.

Go? Yeah, funny.

We've got a little guy.

He's union, works up there, all day.

If I.

Do it slowly.

It goes straight away.

It lands by your pocket.

Is it in this pocket, sir? Don't reach in your pocket.


A different show.

(Squeaking) That's, rather strange.

They have shots for that.

Can I show them? Rather bizarre.


This yours, sir? I have no idea how that works.

We'll send that over there.

I need help with this one.


Over this way for me.

Don't run away.

You had something down by your pants.


I was checking mine.

I couldn't find everything, but I noticed you had something here.

Can I feel the outside for a moment? Down.

Here I noticed this.

Is this something of yours, sir? I have no idea.

That's a shrimp.

J: Yeah.

I'm saving it for later.

AR: You've entertained all of these people in a wonderful way, better than you, know., So we'd love.

To give you this lovely watch as a gift.

(Laughter) Hopefully it matches his taste.

We have a couple of other things, a little bit of cash.


We have a few other things.

These all belong to you, along with a big round of applause from all your friends.

(Applause) Joe.

Thank you very much., (Applause) (Applause ends) So, same question.

I asked you before, but this time you don't have to close your eyes.

What am I wearing? Audience:, Oh!, (Laughter), (Hesitant, applause) (Applause ends) Attention is a powerful thing.

Like I said.

It shapes your reality.

So, I.

Guess I'd like to pose that question to you.


You could control somebody's attention.

What would you do with it? Thank you.



What is the irony with attention and awareness? ›

You cannot be aware of something unless you are giving it attention. Ironically though you can not even be aware that you are attending to something. At a party you can suddenly hear your name even though you weren't actively listening to the conversation of the people speaking your name.

What is the art of misdirection? ›

Misdirection—or direction, as some magicians prefer to call it—is the subtle, deceptive art of directing an audience's attention towards one thing (a magical effect) so it does not notice another (the method or mechanics of a trick).

What are the 4 parts of irony? ›

There are a number of different types of irony, each meaning something a little different.
  • Dramatic irony. Also known as tragic irony, this is when a writer lets their reader know something that a character does not. ...
  • Comic irony. ...
  • Situational irony. ...
  • Verbal irony.
Sep 3, 2021

What are the 3 types of irony? ›

Irony is a literary technique that storytellers use to contrast expectations and reality. There are primarily three types of irony: dramatic, situational, and verbal.

How many types of misdirection are there? ›

Misdirection comes in three flavors: time (the magician has the silk artfully placed in his hand before he begins the trick); place (your attention is drawn to the magician's right hand, while the move is done by his left hand, or his foot, or his assistant); and intent (the magician leads you to the decision he wants ...

What is misdirection in psychology? ›

According to Kuhn (2019) misdirection is an umbrella term that describes a range of psychological principles that are used to prevent the audience from discovering the true method and focuses the audience's atten- tion to the magical effect.

What is the irony called when the audience knows? ›

dramatic irony, a literary device by which the audience's or reader's understanding of events or individuals in a work surpasses that of its characters.

What type of irony is it when the audience or the reader is more aware of what is happening than a character? ›

The meaning of dramatic irony is when the audience is more aware of what is happening than a character.

What type of irony is it when the reader or viewer is aware of something in the story that the character does not know? ›

Dramatic irony is defined as when the audience knows something that a character does not know. Verbal irony occurs when the intended meaning of something is other than what is communicated.

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