Skip to main content

About Carthage

5 Minutes with Anthony Barnhart

Take a peek inside Prof. Barnhart’s office on Instagram!

Click the arrows to move to the next photo.

Department: Psychological Science
Title: Chair, Psychological Science Department; Assistant Professor of Psychological Science
Best Office Artifact: Autographed Mr. Rogers photo

A professional magician turned psychology professor turned leading expert in the psychology of magic, Anthony Barnhart uses his unique background and expertise to invigorate Carthage’s Department of Psychological Science and his students’ learning.  

Prof. Barnhart started performing magic at 7 years old and hasn’t stopped including it in his everyday life since. After collaborating on a popular neuroscience of magic publication in graduate school, he has published further research on the science of magic, been featured on the Canadian television program ”The Nature of Things with David Suzuki,” and served as the conference chair for the 2019 Science of Magic Association conference. He has shared his success with many Carthage students over the years, bringing them to conferences to present research and mentoring them through the SURE program

We spoke to Prof. Barnhart about his accomplishments, favorite Carthage memories, advice for students, and interdisciplinary work in the worlds of magic and science. 

How did you become interested in psychology? 
“Before I was a psychologist, I was a professional magician. When you are paid to deceive the senses, you become intimately aware of just how fallible the human mind is, so many magicians are naturally drawn to psychology. I just took my interest further than most. As an undergraduate psychology major, I was lucky to have professors who encouraged me to develop my thinking on the relationships between performance magic and psychology, only solidifying my interests in psychology.”

What was your journey to becoming a Carthage professor like? Why did you choose Carthage? 
“After completing my Ph.D. in cognitive science at Arizona State University, I worked as a faculty member at Northern Arizona University for a few years. I loved my time at NAU but felt drawn to a more intimate, liberal arts environment like the one at which I received my undergraduate degree. The life of an academic at a large state institution is quite different than that of a professor in the liberal arts. At many large state schools, your contact with undergraduates tends to be minimized, and when you are teaching undergraduates, it’s in enormous, impersonal lecture halls. Your life is spent seeking out grant funding and supervising graduate researchers (who, in turn, supervise undergraduates). The constant search for grant money does not appeal to me. I’m a low-budget operation. I don’t need millions of dollars to continue carrying out the kind of research that I do. Furthermore, I think my research in the cognitive science of magic and illusion has great utility in inspiring curiosity and appreciation for psychological science in undergraduates. It is also inherently interdisciplinary since it brings together performance art with psychological science. A liberal arts institution is perfectly situated to support this kind of interdisciplinary exploration. A final motivating factor for coming to Carthage was that I was born and raised in the Midwest, as was my wife. We were excited to return to our roots.” 

You also work as a part-time magician and have had great success blending science and magic in your professional research. Could you explain how magic and psychology have intersected in your life and career? Have you always been interested in magic and what does it mean to you? 
“I’ve been really lucky to be able to marry my two passions: Psychological Science and Magic. I started performing magic when I was 7 years old and performed professionally through high school, college, and graduate school. Magic is a unique mechanism for bringing the experience of wonder to large groups of people, and it was a great opportunity for me to be creative. However, I didn’t necessarily see a future in it for me, because the entertainment business is terrifying!

“I went to graduate school to be a language researcher. To that end, I have published a good amount of work exploring the mechanisms underlying our impressive ability to read messy, handwritten text. However, while I was in graduate school, I began to see people publishing scientific work using the techniques of magicians as a tool for studying attention and perception. I thought to myself, ‘There is absolutely nothing that makes me particularly well-equipped to study word perception, but I have all of these years of training in magic that put me in a unique position to jump into this new line of research!’ I looked into who was doing work on the science of magic, and realized that two prominent researchers were just down the road from me at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. I reached out to them and we struck up a long-term collaboration.

“While I was still a graduate student, I contributed some ideas to a popular science book that these folks were writing on the neuroscience of magic (Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions), and the collaboration has continued beyond graduate school. Just last month, we published a piece together in the Journal of Eye Movement Research. I am proud to be at the forefront of this exciting new research program and to be in a position to build connections between these seemingly disparate areas.”

How have you pushed students outside of their comfort zones? 
“Exploring cognitive psychology almost forces humility upon people! As students learn about how cognitive processes evolve and develop, they become aware of all of the ‘holes’ in cognition … all of the mental shortcuts that we take that blind us to reality. The sometimes unfounded assumptions we make about our experience of the world open the door to lots of irrational patterns of thought. Students in my classes are forced to consider how they have fallen prey to patterns of irrational, magical thinking, and that realization can be truly uncomfortable for many.”


• • •

“I hope my students will come away with a new-found respect for psychological science and a robust intellectual curiosity.”

• • •


What do you hope students take away from working with you, either in class or through opportunities like the SURE Program?
“I hope my students will come away with a new-found respect for psychological science and a robust intellectual curiosity. Psychological Science is hard. Unlike other sciences, we cannot measure what we are studying directly, so we have to generate creative techniques for doing our science. I hope students will also come away with a more critical eye for ‘pop psychology,’ which is typically based on the worst science.”

Any favorite memories or moments from your time at Carthage so far?
“Two summers ago, a film crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation visited Carthage and featured work from my lab in an episode of the long-running popular science show, ‘The Nature of Things with David Suzuki.’ It was really exciting to be able to showcase the work of Carthage students in this highly respected, international venue. The footage can only be viewed in Canada, currently, but the producers anticipate that an international version of the documentary will come out in the next year or so. You can watch the trailer for the episode at”

 What are some hobbies or interests you have that may be surprising to students? 
“I attended Augustana College on theatre and vocal performance scholarships, and while I was in college I founded an acapella quintet called Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’. Coincidentally, Dr. Brownholland’s sister-in-law was the soprano in my group! You can hear one of our tunes here.”

What is your favorite class to teach? 
“Without question, Cognitive Psychology is my favorite core curriculum course. Cognitive Psychology presents students with a relatively unique way of looking at the mind. … At least it’s a perspective that most haven’t considered before college. It also happens to be my most well-honed class. Of course, my other favorite class is my J-Term course on The Cognitive Science of Magic. It allows me the opportunity to present students with a unique experience, being immersed in a content area and learning about the topic from movers and shakers in the field. A few times a week we have visitors from the worlds of science or magic who tell the students about what they’re working on or thinking about. I also organize field trips so that students can experience magic ‘in the wild.’”


• • •

“It’s never too early for a student to become involved in research! I encourage students to reach out to their professors if they’re interested in getting involved.”

• • •


What advice do you have for new or prospective students interested in psychology?  
“My advice would be for students to know what they’re getting into! As a department of Psychological Science, science is at the heart of our curriculum. In nearly every class, they will have contact with research, either consuming it or carrying it out on their own. Our major teaches students how we use science to understand the mind. The centerpiece of the curriculum is our two-course sequence of Research Methods and Statistics, and every course thereafter builds upon the knowledge gained in these courses. I advise students to put their all into the Research Methods and Statistics courses. Success in those will almost guarantee success in the rest of the major.” 

Anything else you would like students to know? 
“It’s never too early for a student to become involved in research! The Department of Psychological Science has four thriving research labs. I encourage students to reach out to their professors if they’re interested in getting involved.”

— Interview by Madeline Paakkonen ’21, Photos by Jenna Link 22

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2020), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • The Tower, Carthage’s newest residence hall, provides some of the best views on campus — if not in the Midwest! In addition to #carthageviews of the lake from seven stories up, residents enjoy suite-style living and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about all housing options.

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wings, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • More than 90% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit The Aspire Center.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. More than 90% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • Carthage has ranked as a top Fulbright producer for four of the past five years. Read about Carthage Fulbright winners.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our science center, student union, athletic and recreation center, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 15 years.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors, and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from marketing to neuroscience, nursing to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our more than 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • Our athletes rank up some impressive stats. So does our fitness center. The N. E. Tarble Athletic and Recreation Center (better known as the TARC), is home to a 16-lane swimming pool, 200-meter indoor track, two racquetball courts, an indoor rock climbing wall, and a 5,000-square-foot fitness center.

    • Carthage fields 24 NCAA Division III sports, including basketball, football, lacrosse, volleyball, and water polo. Our varsity teams play in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin — regularly taking home hardware from one of the nation’s toughest Division III conferences.

    • More than 90 percent of students receive financial aid. Carthage awards more than $20 million in scholarship and grant assistance. That includes $5.5 million in competitive scholarships in business, mathematics, science, languages, the fine arts, leadership, and overall academic strength. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” recalls biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 35 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from $22,000 up to full tuition. Learn more.

    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about Intellectual Foundations.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 13:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 130 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Fencing to Frisbee, Chem Club to Stand Up Comedy. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked No. 3 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …