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Derren Brown: The Guilt Trip

Derren Brown is an English mentalist, hypnotic, skeptic, and illusionist. Derren Brown uses techniques such as cognitive psychology, hypnosis, memory, and cold reading. His shows achieve psychological illusion by combining the skills of a magician and hypnotist (Totally History Derren Brown). In his show—The Experiments, he conducted an experiment which he called “The Guilt Trip”. According to Derren, throughout time guilt has been used as manipulative tool. In the modern world, guilt and shame are significant emotions in cases of depression.

The purpose of the experiment is to see if an innocent person may confess to a murder that did not happen through the manipulation of cognitive learning, memory, state of consciousness, and emotion. The subject had previously auditioned to participate in Brown’s show, but he was told he had been rejected. The subject—Jody, was psychologically screened to ensure he was stable. Later, Jody was invited to a false seminar in a historic country house hotel to host ‘Student Futures’, on which he was asked to speak about getting graduates successfully to the workplace. Jody was not aware that it was all staged. Twenty-one covert cameras were placed, and a ground crew, which he believed were filming the seminar.

During the first stage, triggers were created to make him feel guilty. Actors were told to create situations in which Jody would feel guilty and squeeze him on the shoulder, meanwhile Derren would fire a sound of a bell played in the hotel. Thus, Jody started to associate the feeling of guilt with a shoulder squeeze and the sound of the bell. An authority figure was also presented, an artist who Jody greatly admired appeared as an entertainer at the seminar, while Jody was made believe that he had offended the artist to further embed guilt triggers. The second stage intended to make the subject doubt his own memory. A series of inexplicable events occurred around him such as changing furniture, speakers changing the colors of their clothes, and his food disappearing while he was distracted. Then, expensive jewelry was reported missing and appeared in Jody’s room. He confessed to have stolen the pearls even though he had no memory of it because he had started daunting his memory. During the last stage of the experiment, the sense of a motive was instilled by making the ‘victim’ a rude person and a cheater. The night before the staged murder, Jody had alcoholic drinks which made his memory more distorted. While he was asleep, Jody’s state of consciousness was manipulated into a hypnopompic state, between wakefulness and sleep. He woke up outside with no memory of how he got there or why. Later that day, the police informed the participants that there had been a murder. Ultimately, Jody turned himself in for a murder he did not commit.

The Guilt Trip demonstrated that by being exposed to false information, distorted or false memories, many innocent people confess to crimes every year as discussed in course text Chapter 7: Memory. The experiment also resembles Ivan Pavlov’ classical conditioning, which establishes the learning of a new behavior through the process of association which was explored in course text Chapter 6: Learning as well. The subject’s state of consciousness was discussed in the experiment, putting the subject into a mid-state of wake and sleep (hypnopompic state) through hypnosis, related to Chapter 5: States of Consciousness of the course text.

The Guilt Trip is enlightening and educational in numerous ways. It gives a deeper understanding on how easily a person’s mind can be manipulated, it shows how we cannot rely on our memory, it demonstrates how we can unconsciously learn to associate things and react to a stimulus.

Many individuals might be affected by similar situations, especially in the criminal justice system. There are hundreds of innocent people who have been incarcerated due to wrongful testimonies either from a victim or witnesses’ false memories, or because erroneous information is supplied to the defendant.

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