I love the stage performances of Derren Brown. So I tell my friends about them. No, it’s worse than that, really: I implore them to look. I almost shove my IPad in their faces, because that’s what I’m like when I’m enthusiastic, aren’t you? I plead with them to watch at least a few minutes of it while I make them coffee. So they check it out,
and then they don’t share my enthusiasm. This baffled me, until I came across a post on Dan Ariely’s blog. One of his followers asked:
“Do you think that overhyped expectations can backfire?”
The question is called “On Expectations” if you want to read the whole post. This guy has much the same experiences I had when recommending a film to a friend. And yes, Ariely advises him to not exaggerate too much. Up to 20% exaggeration might have a beneficial effect, (he’s an economist, he should know) but if you go up to 60%, the gap with reality becomes too wide and you have overhyped it.
So how can I exaggerate what Derren Brown does by 20%? I mean, he convinced a guy that he was experiencing the Apocalypse. That’s about as intense as it gets.
Still, I think there might be other factors. I noticed that one girlfriend feels she is not allowed to watch this kind of stuff. She is convinced that it might harm her religious beliefs. I find that interesting. On his site, Derren writes:
“After all, atheism is the natural stance of the educated and the informed, is it not? (…) The old Enlightenment caricature, it seems, is true after all; where Reason reigns, God retires.”
But he backs down from this bold statement in the next few sentences. Some scientists maintain that encounters with non-believers serve to reinforce strongly held beliefs. They cause reactance. If this is true, watching Derren Brown perform should be mandatory in Pentecostal church services.
I do think that it’s a good thing to challenge your beliefs, whatever they are, on a regular basis. And maybe that is what I like most about Derren Brown’s work. What you see is not what is really going on. What you find yourself thinking might not be your own idea. Our brains are malleable, much more so than we think. We might as well enjoy that.