A team of pickpockets took Kerri Miller's iPhone during her recent visit to Paris. One distracted her with a clipboard while another delved into her travel pouch.
To the surprise of no one who knows her, Kerri chased one of the offenders down and got her phone back.
The experience left her wiser — and intrigued. How was the team able to distract her so easily?
Part of the answer lies in the art of the pickpocket, an ancient practice that is handed down from generation to generation, and in the fool-the-eye tricks magicians use. But another part of the answer lies in neuroscience.
From Scientific American:
Why are scientists working with sleight-of-hand artists? Their tricks, honed through the decades, have revealed that people respond to certain situations in specific ways. Like detectives looking for new leads to solve a mystery, scientists can mine magicians' knowledge for ideas to test in the lab. And for the magicians, understanding principles about the brain — that is, why a trick works the way it does — can suggest new ways to advance their art as they develop new tricks or improve existing ones.
What can science teach us about distraction? Is it possible to develop skills that will protect us from scam artists and pickpockets?
And just for the record, the U.S. Embassy in Paris recommends against chasing down a pickpocket:
If you do have your pocket picked, start yelling for the police immediately. If none respond, go to the local police station (commissariat) and file a complaint. Don't chase down whoever you think stole your wallet. Remember if they work in groups, your wallet was most likely handed off before you realized it was gone. If you chase down and grab who you think is the culprit and he/she doesn't have your wallet, you could get into deep trouble, fast. Find yourself a police officer and make an immediate report.