Derren Brown, Mind Control Guy

OK so I was watching tv last night in my hotel room when Derren Brown’s Russian Roulette (Reloaded) came on. I had never heard of him before coming here so for any of you unfamiliar, from what I can gather, Derren is one of those people who can “read” people with an amazing degree of accuracy. In the Russian Roulette program, using his powers of intuition, he whittled a field of 100 volunteers down to 1, the lucky “1” being the one who would load a bullet into a chamber. Derren was then to determine which chamber the guy had chosen, point the gun at his head, and based on what he believed to be the “safe choices” would fire the gun.

That was all incidental to me, however. If the guy is for real, he is an amazingly talented person. In one portion of the show, he had the group (of 35, I believe it was) draw a face on a piece of cardboard. He had all but one guy turn their drawings in (without revealing to him which drawing belonged to who.) By looking at the picures, not only could he deduce who had drawn them, but he came up with uncannily accurate details about their lives, careers, interests. The one gentleman who had turned in his picture was asked to stand, and Darren, drawing again on his abilities, drew up what he felt was an accurate representation of what the audience member had drawn. And indeed, it was eerily accurate - almost an exact replication. Breaking the audience up into groups of three, he instructed each group to vote one person out - and accurately determined which person from each group would be the one oustered.

I’m a fairly skeptical person, but I couldn’t help but be impressed. His website has this test which worked fairly well for me (and anyone who remembers my “Where are we meeting thread” from a few months back might find it interesting.) It was inaccurate enough to be realistic - and the first one, while wrong, was amazingly close to accurate.

Anyway, I’m sure he has his detractors, and anyone offering any testimony against his abilities, I invite to stand up and say so. I really want to be skeptical, but, maybe the guy really is just an amazingly intuitive person.

Glad you brought him up. I think he’s amazing too. And dishy. Though you’d worry a bit going out with someone like that, wouldn’t you?

He also did a “seance” live on telly a month or so ago. He was completely open about the fact that he could not speak to the dead or anything like that, but he still got amazing results. It was both great TV and I liked the point he was making a mediums and the like.

My favourite though, is the episode where he manages to so throw a London cabbie that the man couldn’t find the London Eye (huge landmark ferris wheel) even though he as driving past in with the thing in plain view!

He’s just brilliant. He claims no special ‘powers’, and often gives explanations of what he’s doing - but I also think that half the stuff he appears and claims to work out through psychology is also trickery, and that the explanations he gives are also only half the truth, or none of the truth at all. I think he uses hypnotism a lot more than he lets on, too. That said, he’s a brilliant showman, my favourite illusionist, seems to be a charming bloke, and my wife fancies him.

My dad was one of the 100 volenteers on the show. He believes the roulette thing was staged.

I don’t know… The roulette thing seemed the least impressive bit of them all - even I had figured out where the bullet was going to be (although not with the degree of confidence to actually have pulled the trigger). It just seemed like the “obvious” choice. That, and I do believe there was a lot of not-entirely-subtle suggestion on Derren’s part.

(paraphrasing) “Six chambers, One through six. OK, pick one, and then put the bullet into it. Make sure you remember the one that you picked. After you’ve picked one, say the number over and over in your head. Have you got the one? Ok, put the bullet in the one you picked.”

I think the tests on his website betray his use of trickery. The answers are pat. It’s not so much trickery as it is taking advantage of human nature. The guy who was chosen should be insulted because it means that Brown thought he was a lemming/sheep and limited creatively.

As always with Derren Brown, he’s clearly using a combination of cold reading, suggestion and trickery. The clever bit is that you’re never entirely sure which he is using at any given moment.

In the case of his Russian roulette trick, I always did think that the sole purpose of the selection process (apart from filling a hour’s worth of television) was to pick someone sufficiently naïve-looking that one could half-believe that Brown was actually doing it by reading his body language.

By the way, all of the people reading techniques are based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming, something often bandied about as complete bunk here on the SD.

Well Derren did admit as much that he chose the person he did because he was suggestible - and that was why he weeded out the ones he did. He wanted someone he could influence to make the choices that he expected. I just find it a remarkable talent to identify just such a person so accurately, and to so adeptly influence that person without letting on (to the person) that he was doing so. And one of the tests (pick the planets) on his site even states flat out that there was no “trick” to it - it was a mathematical certainty. Another (the pick the place in Europe) was one that I tried here on this site before ever having heard of Derren; it’s a “typical human response” type thing. But some of them, especially the one on the Roulette show, require an extremely fine ability to read people, and quickly. He selected people based on his own ability to read them accurately, and their ability to be influenced “subliminally” and to act on that instinct. Which would be why he ruled out the guy who picked “Sheep” as his random word - it was clearly someone who recognized the sheep mentality that Derren was obviously looking for.

His shows are quote interesting, but thsoe “tests” on his website are fairly useless. Only two of the tests worked for me, the animal (including the “catch”) and the monument/city. The rest were way out.

Just wanted to throw in my two cents. I also took the tests, and I only had one work for me; the two odd numbers (37). Everything else was way off.

Especially the jungle one, as I actually picked a jungle creature.

Also, the shapes one; wouldn’t almost everyone pick a square to be the outside shape? I have tried visualizing some other shapes as the outside one, and it is harder. But I picked a triangle on the inside.

I guess that was more than two cents’ worth.

Yeah, I only got one as well (the even-but-different over-50 one)

This is an incorrect statement.

  1. I don’t know about NLP being ‘complete bunk’. The reason some people, self included, have reservations about the way NLP is commonly presented, for example in the book ‘Frogs Into Princes’, is that only one part of the theory has been put to empirical, scientific testing. This was the theory that says ‘the way your eyes look indicate whether you are retrieving a memory or making up a story’. The one and only time it was subject to proper scientific evaluation, no such correlation was found. In other words, while Bandler himself asserts this theory in his lectures and writings, it isn’t backed up by anything. Or, trying to be a little kinder, it is only ‘backed up’ by first-hand subjective assessment and the advocacy of adherents to the theory. Unfortunately, if this is deemed acceptable criteria then by the same token astrology and phrenology are equally valid.

  2. Kid Charlemagne doesn’t specify which techniques he is including in the phrase ‘people reading’, but let us suppose he is referring to such alleged practices as face-reading, voice-reading and body language. All of these preceded NLP and I have books on each which nowhere mention NLP nor involve any concepts which can accurately be described as part of NLP theory.

  3. I make these points solely because I don’t want a false view of NLP to be propagated, especially not here on the Boards.

As for Derren, yes, he is a superb entertainer and illusionist. Both his TV shows and his live stage show are put together by a superb team of people, most of whom I know, and they do create terrific work. I obviously cannot comment on how any of it is done.

Regardless of whether it was staged or not I’d imagine very few people who saw it failed to be impressed on some level when watching the Russian Roulette show. It was certainly fantastic viewing. I don’t think I’ve ever sat closer to the TV…

I tried the tests on his website, and out of 7 tests, he scores a 1.5 (he got Paris, but I was thinking of the Notre Dame rather than the Effiel Tower), and on the one he did get he had a 25% chance if the guess was actually random. It doesn’t seem all that impressive. Especially the bit about the jungle animal = lion.

This article dismisses a lot of Derren Brown’s work as simple magic tricks dressed up as psychological illusions.

Regarding the over 50, 2 even but different numbers… 62, 64, 82, 84 would qualify, right? I got 68, which is one of his two guesses - on what basis is he guessing that most people will choose 68 or 86 over 62, 64, 82, 84?

Well, he hedges. As I recall, he said something like, “I knew it would contain a 6 or 8”.

I’d have to say that accusing Derren of “trickery” seems to me to be missing the point by quite a margin. Did you want him to do “actual magic”? I mean, he might be using any number of techniques and with some of his non-live shows he might not be showing you the five hundred takes where he was way off for all I know. But when you’re watching you (well, I, can’t speak for the rest of you) often doubletake and wonder how the hell he did that, which means he does his job very well.

For example when he “beat” all the chess players he explained exactly how he did it. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t very clever or hugely entertaining.

Hmmm…lions don’t live in the jungle, though. They live on the plains. What was that bit about never underestimating the intelligence of the common people?

That “Russian Roulette” trick sounds like a souped-up version of The Gun Trick dissected in William Poundstone’s Biggest Secrets. Nobody, not even a “mind control guy,” is going to let anybody shoot an ungaffed gun at their head.