Friday, November 11, 2011

Derren Brown: The Experiments

Tomorrow sees the conclusion of a recent series of Channel 4 programmes put together by the illusionist Derren Brown: The Eperiments. According to the Wikipedia entry, it is a series of "ambitious sociological experiments, in which the unwitting subject is a single person, a crowd, or even an entire town."
The first episode, entitled "The Assassin"... consists of Brown successfully hypnotising an unwitting member of the public to 'assassinate' a celebrity revealed to be Stephen Fry. This technique was used as a comparison to conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of Robert Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan, who claims to have no memory of the event... In the second episode, "Remote Control"... Brown hosted a game show, asking a masked audience to vote for the escalating outcome of the fate of one contestant in an attempt to demonstrate the effect of deindividuation. The theory is that taking away individuality from someone turns them from themselves to just part of a crowd, and makes them act in a way that would sometimes go against their morals... In the third episode, "The Guilt Trip"... Brown attempted to find out if he could convince someone through association to admit to a crime they didn't commit. He worked through tricking a participant into distrusting their own memory and having excessive feelings of guilt, to the extent where he confessed to the murder of an actor whom he had interacted with and was later told had been murdered... In the fourth episode, "The Secret of Luck"... (due to air tomorrow)... Brown spreads a rumour of a lucky dog statue throughout an entire town and documents the consequences.
These experiments should be of interest to behavioural economists in the context of the Nudge theory (and the impact of Nudge on public policy; especially Thaler and Sunstein's discussion of libertarian paternalism). In particular, Brown's "Gameshow" experiment is evocative of the Stanford Prisoner Experiment. Brown's experiments can be investiagted further on YouTube or 4OD. Below is a trailer for the "Gameshow" episode.

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