Derren Brown: ‘The Experiment’ and what it tells us about society.

Earlier this week, I settled down to watch the second in Derren Brown’s ‘social experiments’. This week, Darren attempted to update the experiments on deindividuisation conducted by Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram. In other words, how people feel a lack of personal responsibility when part of a crowd. Think back to the riots in the UK earlier this year, for example, and the rise of the Nazis in Germany.

Derren had a studio audience believe they were influencing the things that would happen to the unwitting mark, by pressing buttons marked A or B depending on a choice given to them by Derren. He asked them to place masks on before the show started.

It started with silly things like should he A) Get a free round of drinks or B) be accused of pinching a girl’s bottom. It ended up that the man had drinks spilt on him, got an ear bashing from a jealous boyfriend and got charged twice for a round of drinks. All fairly low-level stuff. However, it was ramped up with him being set up for shoplifting, being arrested and being told he was going to lose his job on Monday.

One thing I would say at this point, though, is that the percentage of the audience that voted for these choices did decrease. However, the majority ruled.

During this time, Derren Brown had a production assistant in the man’s house, going through his laundry basket, dvd collection and internet history. Things took a very sinister turn, however, when the production assistant went into the man’s bedroom. Random members of the audience started shouting things like “look in his bedside drawers!” Everyone knows that bedside drawers hold personal items so, to me, that was a major sign of disrespect. But, it got worse. After a bit more time, other members of the audience began encouraging him to trash the room, smash the TV and XBox.

To me, this showed a scary side of society. They had been acting as a group for less than an hour but people were showing a mob mentality, with some demonstrating a frightening lack of respect for a fellow human being. It also showed how one person comes up with an idea “Smash the TV!” and how others follow, shouting “Yeah” and laughing. What sheep.

The final decision that the audience were given to make was do we reward this guy and give him a cash prize or do we have him kidnapped? Guess what they chose. They were given a shock, though, when the man made a run from the gang trying to kidnap him and was knocked over. Obviously, it was a set-up but Derren Brown acted as though it was real, walking off stage looking shocked.

What I found interesting at this point was that most – if not all – of the audience removing their masks, thus individualizing themselves again and disassociating from the group that had potentially caused a man’s death.

This show was incredibly interesting and insightful. I think it told us a lot about how people act in a crowd. What I was intrigued with though was the decreasing numbers – I think that also demonstrates that a good percentage of people realised that their actions can impinge negatively on someone else.

I like to think that I would not be a sheep.

Vic x


2 responses to “Derren Brown: ‘The Experiment’ and what it tells us about society.

  1. I watched it with great interest, and thought of the riots too, especially as the audience’s ‘pack mentality’ gradually intensified.

    The shock on their faces at the end made them realise what fools they’d been, and your point about them taking their masks off to disassociate themselves from the rest was very perceptive of you.

    Excellent post. So good, I’m now following you! 🙂


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