Edit2: I'm revising the question again. Please note that I am not talking about card tricks like THIS. I'm talking about specific examples below which are at least portrayed as far more complex, ornate, and supposedly based on psychology and suggestion.

Derren Brown (website) is described as being a "a British illusionist, mentalist, painter, writer and sceptic" (WIKI). He pulls off various feats that are, indeed, insanely amazing [looking]. Examples:

Derren's website (as noted by @Oliver_C) states that he "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."

I do not consider the above to be in the magic category, and know that some believe he is using NLP to accomplish these feats (LINK), despite his own denial of using such a method.

If one holds that this is "magic," please make a solid case for why it is in such a category other than citing his website or methods, for his stated methods also include psychology and misdirection. I classify the above as those which appear to be using psychology or suggestive wording to influence others and make "predictions" appear real.

Is it possible to influence people's choices so precisely via psychology or linguistic suggestion, as to accomplish what is shown above?

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    From Derren Browns' own website: [He] 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. I agree with @Oddthinking, I don't think we should reveal magic tricks here. Magicians are usually good allies of skeptics, e.g. Houdini, James Randi
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 9:41
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    @MrHen: I guess I just don't buy that it's "magic" based on anything I know of "magic." Magic, to me, implies static objects being manipulated by the magician. Magic, to me, does not tend to include figuring out how to guide someone through a grocery store along a predicted route. Thus, I'm skeptical of calling it "magic." I'm also skeptical that "psychology" or "linguistic suggestions" could do such a thing. Just call me skeptical all the way around. If someone can show that he classifies the above as "magic" and not "psychology," I'll just let it go.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:15
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    @Hendy: Sure. I just don't think that this is the place to ask whether something fits the definition of "magic". Asking for the classification of a trick may be too off-topic.
    – MrHen
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:20
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    @Hendy- "Mentalism" is a branch of magic. There is a documentary you can watch on YouTube, History of Magic - Mind Reading, where magicians/mentalists (including James Randi) share their thoughts. (P.S. I have done magic tricks since I was a kid and I did notice that "mind reading" tricks usually impressed people more than "sleight of hand" tricks)
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 18:54
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    The fact that NLP has been proved not to work lends some credence to his denial of using it. Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


I think your own research answers this question.

Derren Brown is, by your own reference, an illusionist. By his own admission, he uses "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship".

Brown performs some tricks with props and sleight-of-hand, such as with cards and cigars, but he is famous for his stage hypnosis and mentalism. As @Oliver_C has pointed out, the History of Magic documentary has some background on the History of Mentalism.

As an illusionist, you should expect that when he is performing that he "lies" about he does. Furthermore, he even admits to that:

I am often dishonest in my techniques, but always honest about my dishonesty. As I say in each show, 'I mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship'. I happily admit cheating, as it's all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what's real and what isn't. I am an entertainer first and foremost, and I am careful not to cross any moral line that would take me into manipulating people's real-life decisions or belief systems.
(Source: His book, Tricks of the Mind, via the Wikipedia page.)

The same Wikipedia page explains he does not claim to use NLP, describing aspects of it as limited. However, in a 1999 lecture he does claim to use NLP techniques. Note: Just because he believes/believed they worked, doesn't mean they do.

In the same page, there are links to Simon Singh, a noted skeptic, who wrote an article where he exposed one of the card tricks as a straight-forward magic trick, and objected to Brown claiming that it was done through psychology.

I do not think it is appropriate to reveal a magic trick that is being presented as such, and I consider Derren Brown to be presenting himself as a magician, despite Singh's concerns.

Brown reveals some of his tricks himself in his book Devils Picture Book, which has limited availability, to magicians only.

So, in conclusion, Brown is not using psychology to the extent that he appears when in the middle of performing a trick, but he admits as much at the beginning of the show and off-stage.

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    Thanks for the answer... but how does "magic" explain predicting the route someone would take through a grocery store? I'm mostly interested in the "psychological-appearing" things such as the birthday present or grocery store -- are these folks just playing along?
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 12:43
  • (As discussed with @Oliver_C) This is a form of magic known as mentalism. There are some well-known ways in which people tend to think the same (e.g. when asked to quickly name a vegetable), there is cold-reading and warm-reading, but there are also far more ways to use standard magical techniques to give an impression of being a psychic.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 1:10
  • Yes, can you include a reference to mentalism and @Oliver_C's youtube series on mentalism? I've watched a lot of stuff and am satisfied with calling it "magic" but also want it to be linked to "mentalism" which I do believe has some psychological tricks (which I still don't understand) that allows one to create the strong sense of prediction in his videos. With that added in, the question is answered sufficiently for me!
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 15:51
  • On the James Randi Foundation forum, we have a thread on "Magic" by which we mean professional stage magic or "conjuring" or "illusion". The techniques used by professionals are closely guarded secrets as they after all are their livelihood. Still, if you delve into the resources above with diligence, you may gain some clues. Rest assured there is no "magic" in the supernatural or paranormal sense involved. The techniques used by Houdini are very well known, but still there are those that maintain he used paranormal powers and even that he was not aware of this!
    – M. Werner
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 20:30
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    Talking only about TV shows, it is important to always remember that Reality Magic on TV is open to editing, cherry-picking and so on. Except for certain tricks, it is never live. He himself hammers this fact into you in his explanation of The System.
    – user7920
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 16:57

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