The genius psychology principles revealed by Derren Brown in Secret
In 2019, I attended Derren Brown’s Broadview show called “Secret”. Amongst many mentalist tricks, there was one in particular that stood out to me. The trick involved a “hypnosis” video played to the audience.
Derren built up the video before hand by stating that it could have severe psychological effects and if anyone didn’t feel comfortable with the video should leave the theatre or cover their eyes for the duration of the video. He then played the video to the audience. It was a very eerie video with hypnotic music. After the video ended, Derren Brown said that a big portion of the audience will feel an urge to stand up. And then he waited.
One by one, around 30% of the audience stood up over the next 5 minutes. I had the urge to stand up but it wasn’t strong enough for me to do it. Maybe I felt that it would be weird to stand up and felt peer pressured not to.
This mentalism trick is absolutely genius. It teaches us a few things about psychology.
I am a very curious person, so after the show I started doing research on all of the tricks performed during the show. Of course, I discovered that none of the tricks had anything to do with real hypnosis, magic, or mind reading. It was all based on the psychology of deception. Derren Brown even said himself that he was trying to prove how charlatans used psychology and deception to get their audiences to believe that they had mystic abilities.
So, this hypnosis video that was played was nothing more than an eerie video with cosmic music.
The members of the audience that stood up were urged to do so by the peer pressure and what we call the placebo effect.
Because they were warned of potential “dangers” of the video, the audience took the video very seriously and felt that they were being hypnotised. After the video, when the audience was told they will feel some urge, it was their own imagination and placebo that forced them to stand up.
This brings up 2 very important points.
- It is harder to convince someone that they have been fooled than to fool them in the first place.
Image being the person that stood up after the video was finished playing. How would you react if someone came up to the after the show and said that the video did not actually hypnotise them? Well, naturally, we would all argue that we were indeed compelled to stand up. We might even describe the feelings that we felt and that it was something completely against our control. Proving to that person that it was just a placebo effect would be very difficult, to say the least. Once we accept something as the truth, we are very hesitant to be proven otherwise because it would be a direct attack on our belief system. Science has shown that when we are proven wrong, we feel the same level of pain as when we are hurt physically.
2. Knowing the truth disables the effect of the deception.
How do the workers on the set interpret the video? They know that the video is a placebo so they disregard it as such. Knowing the truth completely removes any placebo effects. It also makes it harder to be controlled, manipulated, and deceived. In essence “The truth will set you free”. The downside, is that you might feel like an outsider.