People exhibit wish to be fooled

By Kevin Wilson: FNNM Columnist

I write this column against better judgment, because it may find its way into my performance review. It’s proof I goof around on company time and damage coworker egos.

It’s better that I don’t start this story, but instead leave it to Michael Caine and his opening quote from the movie “The Prestige” in 2006:

“Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called the pledge: The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course it probably isn’t.

“The second act is called the turn: The magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary. Now if you’re looking for the secret you won’t find it.

“That’s why there’s a third act called the prestige: This is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you’ve never seen before.”

Enter Friday night at Relay for Life. I was about to leave the booth occupied by our newspaper’s team, but I needed a grand exit.

The Penny Intelligence Test provided that exit. It’s part joke, part deception — a lot like a magic trick. I learned it as a freshman in college and I’ve never considered it too immature to pass along.

I’ll teach you the test in the aforementioned three parts. (Illustrative photos are available with this column at cnjonline.com)

The pledge: Tell your subject how a penny can help determine your intelligence. Explain how copper bonds with human sweat, and a person’s intelligence level is directly correlated to how well the penny sticks to their forehead. To borrow from ’80s music, you want to blind them with science and talk about “copper concentration” for pennies and sweat gland efficiency.

To earn audience trust, perform the test on yourself. Stick the penny on your forehead, and hit the back of your head until it falls off. (Raise your eyebrows to help loosen it.)

The turn: Now is when you let them do the penny test. You press the penny on their forehead, and let them hit the back of their head. The subject won’t be able to get the penny off the forehead because it was never there. You concealed the penny in your hand and only pressed your finger to their forehead. They’ll believe the penny’s there if your power of suggestion was good enough.

The prestige: Wait for the subject to emulate your penny removal, and show the penny to the rest of the audience. They will laugh as they see something they didn’t expect — your subject hitting himself on the head and telling you he’s smarter than you.

My coworker, who claimed I bruised her ego, is an intelligent woman. So why does she, and countless others through the years, fall for it? I’ll refer you to the “The Prestige” again, and Caine’s closing line.

“Now you’re looking for the secret … but you won’t find it because you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know the secret. You want to be fooled.”

I may need that quote when my performance review comes up.