Friday, May 2, 2008

How Derren Brown Uses Cognitive Dissonance to Put People to Sleep in Public

How on earth does he do it?

Cognitive dissonance creates such psychological distress that people will do nearly anything to avoid it. Confusion, contradictory information, confusing information presented under pressure will compel people to take the path of least resistance to alleviate this very disturbing psychological pressure. It is an excellent way to evoke a desired behavior. These videos give another glimpse into how this pressure works, demonstrating the same dynamics of cognitive dissonance that I described in this previous post. A person in church who is asked to say "Amen," is pressured to repeat information and then perhaps do some act along with the group stands up against tremendous pressure, especially if the rest of the group behaves uniformly. Add confusing information delivered by the speaker, and it will become overwhelmingly difficult to filter out their suggestions and commands... because of cognitive dissonance.

From Britain's Channel 4 website...

Derren Brown, discussing his series entitled "Trick of the Mind":
"If we feel that our brains are being overloaded with information, we panic and start to become confused. In this situation, if we're given a simple instruction, we grasp it like a lifeline. This technique is used in tricks to persuade people to behave in ways that are completely out of character. When commands are issued at the end of a stream of confusing instructions, people are so relieved they can finally understand what's being said that they will do whatever they're told."

Are You Feeling Sleepy?
"All through the series, people mysteriously fall asleep in public phone boxes. Have they fallen prey to a disease or am I carrying out some trick of the mind on the other end of the line? There are two factors at work here.
First, the group of people subjected to the stunt are particularly suggestible...
Secondly, once the person answers, I immediately bombard them with a rapid set of confusing instructions and facts. I do this for several minutes without giving give them a break, then follow it by telling them to fall asleep. As seen on the shows, this works.
Public speakers often capitalise on the same response.
Have you ever listened to a politician giving rapid-fire statistics so fast that the audience can't possibly take them in, only to end the speech with a simple, memorable phrase? The soundbite comes as such a relief after all those facts and figures that this is all the listeners remember."