Susana Martinez-Conde

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Susana Martinez-Conde

Birth: October 1, 1969

Specialty: Neuroscience

Major Contributions:

Author, Sleights of Mind and Champions of Illusion

Pioneer in “neuromagic”

Director, SUNY Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience

Image: Casa de America (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

On most days, neuroscientist Susana Martinez-Conde works with other scientists.  On others, she’s teaming up with magicians and sleight of hand experts like Apollo Robbins.

Martinez-Conde earned her B.S. in experimental psychology from Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and her PhD in Medicine and Surgery from Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.  Along with partner Stephen Macknik, she served as the laboratory director at Barrow Neurological Institute before moving to SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where Martinez-Conde directs the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience.

But Martinez-Conde and Macknik are also members of the Academy of Magical Arts, better known as The Magic Castle.  They are pioneers in the study of stage magic from a neuroscience perspective and believe that scientists and magicians have “overlapping interests.”

Magicians use our own senses against us, and their manipulation of how the human mind works is how their magic works, with neurological “tricks” and misdirection.  The human mind does not have the ability to actually pay attention to everything going on, so a magician or thief’s ability to direct attention is vital to their success.

There are many ways for someone to change your focus or attention.  Martinez-Conde and Macknick have used magicians to look at techniques like active misdirection and joint attention, where they manipulate the human tendency to want to look where other people are looking.  A magician is not distracting you but using your own neurology against you.

Martinez-Conde has looked at the relationship between eye movements and perception.  Even when we fix our gaze, there are microscopic eye movements that are a vital part of how we see.  She also believes that illusions are critical to how we perceive the world. 

Martinez-Conde and Macknik are founding board members of the Neural Correlate Society and together wrote a popular shared column for Scientific American for seven years.  The two co-wrote the book Sleights of Mind with science writer Sandra Blakeslee and they created the Best Illusion of the Year Contest in 2005 which provided some of the material for their 2017 book Champions of Illusion.

Written by Mary Ratliff


Neuroscience Meets Magic – Scientific American

Sleights of Mind

The Science of Illusion (StarTalk)

Stephen Macknik, PhD, and Susana Martinez-Conde, PhD: Making Neurological Magic (YouTube)

Martinez-Conde Laboratory

See Also:

Scientific American: Illusion Chasers

The Science of Illusion (YouTube)

Visual Neuroscientist Susana Martinez-Conde to Talk on ‘Neuromagic’ at Brookhaven Lab, 10/23