Derren Brown: A Psychological Illusionist
Mentalist: Mind Control, Hypnotist and Skeptic

Derren Brown - A Psychological Illusionist
Mentalist: Mind Control, Hypnotist and Skeptic

Dubbed a ‘psychological illusionist’ by the Press, Derren Brown is a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behaviour, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism.

The System, a Channel 4 special in which Brown shared his "100 percent guaranteed" method for winning on the horses, was first shown on 1 February 2008.

The show was based around the idea that a system could be developed to "guarantee a winner" of horse races. Cameras followed a member of the public, Khadisha, as Brown anonymously sent her correct predictions of five races in a row, before encouraging her to place as much money as she could on the sixth race.

To demonstrate the system to the viewer, Brown tossed a coin showing ten heads in a row to prove it was not impossible, just highly improbable.

After Brown had placed a bet of £4,000 of Khadisha's money on a horse in the final race, he explained that "The System" did not really exist.

He had started by contacting 7,776 people and split them into six groups, giving each group a different horse. As each race had taken place 5⁄6 of the people had lost and were dropped from the system.

Brown had a different person backing each horse in each race, and one individual, Khadisha, won five times in a row.

This was similar to the coin flipping earlier: rather than having a predictive technique, Brown had tossed a coin repeatedly until ten heads had come up in a row, taking over nine hours to produce the required film.

Brown expressed the opinion that the principle behind "The System" (essentially confirmation bias or survivorship bias) is what is behind belief in spiritualism or homeopathic and alternative medicine.

After the selected horse in the final race lost, and Khadisha was convinced that she had lost all her borrowed money, Brown told Khadisha to look again at the betting slip in her hand.

The ticket showed the winning horse's name, meaning Khadisha kept her stake and received winnings of £13,000. Brown claimed that he had decided to bet on a different horse when he got to the booth.

At the end of the show, a title card explained that "at each stage of the process, participants who did not make it to the next round were offered a complete refund of any bets they had placed."

Derren Brown Interview with Richard Dawkins

Brown claims to use a variety of methods to achieve his illusions including traditional magic/conjuring techniques, memory techniques, hypnosis, body language reading, cognitive psychology, cold reading and psychological, subliminal (specifically the use of PWA – "perception without awareness") and ideomotor suggestion.

The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously.

As in reflexive responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action.

For instance, tears are produced by the body unconsciously in reaction to powerful emotions. Automatic writing, dowsing, facilitated communication, and Ouija boards have also been attributed to the effect of this phenomenon.

Mystics have often attributed this motion to paranormal or supernatural force. Many subjects are unconvinced that their actions are originating solely from within themselves.

The term was first used in a scientific paper discussing the means through which the Ouija board produced its results, by William Benjamin Carpenter in 1852, whence the alternative term Carpenter effect. In the paper, Carpenter explained his theory that muscular movement can be independent of conscious desires or emotions.

Scientific tests by the English scientist Michael Faraday, the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, and the American psychologists William James and Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious "energies," are actually due to ideomotor action.

Brown claims to use a variety of methods to achieve his illusions including traditional magic/conjuring techniques, memory techniques, hypnosis, body language reading, cognitive psychology, cold reading and psychological, subliminal and ideomotor suggestion.

Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that "honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations". They also show that suggestions that can guide behavior can be given by subtle clues.

Some alternative medicine practitioners claim they can use the ideomotor effect to communicate with a patient's unconsciousness using a system of physical signals (such as finger movements) for the unconscious mind to indicate "yes", "no" or "I'm not ready to know that consciously".

A simple experiment to demonstrate the Ideomotor effect is to allow a hand-held pendulum to hover over a sheet of paper.

The paper has keywords such as YES, NO and MAYBE printed on it. Small movements in the hand, in response to questions, can cause the pendulum to move towards key words on the paper.

This technique has been used for experiments in ESP, lie detection and ouija boards. The validity of these experiments has not been proven. This type of experiment was used by Kreskin and has also been used by illusionists such as Derren Brown to test the hypnotic suggestibility of audience volunteers that are called onto the stage.

Psychological illusions

In an interview published in New Scientist, Brown says that he first developed many of his "psychological illusion" skills through his training in hypnotherapy before he was involved in learning close-up magic.

When asked how he was able to produce various psychological illusions such as apparent mind-reading, lie detection and hypnotic induction, Brown claimed to be able to read on subtle cues such as a micro-muscle movements that indicate to him if someone is lying or holding something back.

He also states that his participants are carefully selected based on their suggestibility and responsiveness which is common in stage hypnosis. He believes that the presence of a television camera also increases responsiveness.

Neuro-linguistic programming

Several authors have claimed that Brown uses neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) in his act which "consists of a range of magical 'tricks', misdirection and, most intriguing, setting up audiences to provide the response that he wishes them to provide by using subtle subliminal cues in his conversation with them."

In response to the accusation that he unfairly claims to be using NLP whenever he performs, Brown writes "The truth is I have never mentioned it outside of my book". Brown does have an off-stage curiosity about the system, and discusses it in the larger context of hypnotism and suggestion.

In his book "Tricks of the Mind" he mentions that he attended an NLP course with Richard Bandler, co-creator of NLP and mentor of Paul McKenna, but suggests that the rigid systems of body language interpretation employed by NLP are not as reliable as its practitioners imply.

He also mentions the NLP concept of eye accessing cues as a technique of "limited use" in his book "Pure Effect". The language patterns which he uses to suggest behaviours are very similar in style to those used by Richard Bandler and by the hypnotist from whom Bandler learned his skill, Milton H. Erickson.

Derren Brown - Miracles for Sale

Derren Brown: Miracles for Sale is a feature length program about the controversial practice of faith healing.

In the show Brown attempted to turn a member of the British public into a "faith healer" and to convincingly give a faith healing show to church goers in Texas.

Brown also mentions in his book 'Tricks of the Mind' that NLP students were given a certificate after a four-day course, certifying them to practice NLP as a therapist.

A year after Brown attended the class, he received a number of letters saying that he would receive another certificate, not for passing a test (as he discontinued practising NLP following the course), but for keeping in touch.

After ignoring their request, he later received the new certificate for NLP in his mailbox, unsolicited.
Derren Brown has authored books for magicians as well as the general public. His caricature artwork has received gallery exhibition and is available in a single volume documenting his portrait collection.

Though his performances of mind-reading and other feats of mentalism may appear to be the result of psychic or paranormal practices, he claims no such abilities.

Brown states at the beginning of his Trick of the Mind programs that he achieves his results using a combination of "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship".

Using his knowledge and skill, he appears to be able to predict and influence people's thoughts with subtle suggestion, manipulate the decision making process and read the subtle physical signs or body language that indicate what a person is thinking.

Derren Brown: Hero at 30,000 Feet

On 8 September 2010, Brown presented a new special on Channel 4 entitled "Derren Brown: Hero at 30,000 Feet".

The programme consisted of Brown taking a man called Matt Galley, a normal person stuck in a rut in his life, and throughout the programme coaches him to take control of life and achieve his aspirations.

The programme was divided into chapters to introduce different stages in the transformation, many of which were undertaken without the subject knowing of Brown's involvement (via cooperation with Galley's parents and girlfriend to set up cameras in his house).

At one stage Brown visits Galley in the middle of the night, but leaves him believing it was a dream. During the program Galley is put through a series of challenges, including being the victim of an armed robbery, touching a live crocodile, illicitly entering a policeman's home, lying on a train track in a straitjacket strapped to the line whilst a train approached him (the first challenge when he knew he was awake and that Brown was involved in this).

The show culminated in Galley travelling on a plane where the pilot had supposedly been incapacitated.Galley, who had not been on a plane in 10 years and had a fear of flying, joined a flight travelling from Leeds to Jersey (where he has been told that a fake game-show presented by Brown was to be filmed).

The plane flight crew, stewards and stewardesses were real, but the rest of the passengers were actors. During the flight the cabin crew announced that the captain had been taken ill and asked for a volunteer to land the plane. At the last minute Galley volunteered, whilst walking up to the front of the plane he was placed into a trance by Brown.

After landing Galley was placed into a cockpit flight simulator and woken up. He was talked through how to land the plane by a person claiming to be ground control. Galley completed the challenge successfully and then emerged from the simulator, to meet Brown and all the actors involved in the programme plus his family and friends.

Brown responded to skepticism about the show on his blog, noting many aspects of the show's production that were edited from the televised version simply due to time constraints. He also confirms Donnie Darko, Fight Club, The Game and Watchmen as influences for the show.

He went on to say, "this has been my favourite show to work on – most ambitious, most involved, most demanding and by far the most joyful. I consider it my fondest and best...."