Jan 14, 2016

Derren Brown 'persuades' two ordinary women to push a stranger off a roof

Harry Mount
Daily Mail
January 12, 2016

Would you abduct a baby from a cafe if a stranger told you to? Or push someone off a tower block to their death on a stranger’s orders? Of course not — unless you were part of a haunting social experiment performed by the illusionist Derren Brown.

Last night on Channel 4, in a programme called Pushed To The Edge, Brown did exactly that. Under Brown’s instruction, an actor playing a policeman persuaded a waiter in a cafe to steal a baby from its mother — after telling the waiter the mother was a child abductor.

And then Brown pulled off an even more staggering scam, pulling the strings from behind the scenes — he is too recognisable to fool his victims in the flesh. 

Moment of horror: Laura uses both hands to shove the helpless man off the roof, in Pushed To The Edge

In an elaborate ruse, Brown staged a fake charity auction on four separate occasions and got four strangers — two men and two women — to attend each of them, on the pretexts that they might not only get lucrative contracts to work for the charity but would also get the chance to network with one of its millionaire donors.

Having agreed to attend, the four strangers were desperate to keep in with the (fake) charity head who was dangling the contract in front of them — and, in the hope of remaining on good terms with him, they agreed to commit increasingly wicked crimes. Frighteningly, each stranger was persuaded over the course of just a matter of hours.

First, they were told the millionaire had dropped dead of a heart attack — a disaster for the charity — and this had to be covered up. All four were persuaded by the ‘charity head’ to hide the donor’s body and impersonate him at the auction.

When the ‘charity head’ changed his mind, and accepted the death would have to be disclosed, he insisted it would have to look like an accident, three of the participants — Hannah, Laura and Martin — agreed to kick the ‘dead body’ in the stomach, to produce the bruises that would result from a fall. Only Chris Kingston, 29, refused.

The four were later duped again when they were told the millionaire hadn’t died at all and had, in fact, just fainted. After this, the incensed donor — very much alive — threatened to ensure they were sent to jail.

In separately staged scenarios, Hannah, Laura and Martin — egged on by a small group of (fake) charity workers — physically shoved the man off the roof, seemingly to his death.

Of course, the actor playing the donor was wearing a harness, which the strangers couldn’t see. The actor dangled happily from a safety rope before being rescued.

Again, only Chris Kingston, co-director of a printing and design company, refused to throw him off.

At the end of the programme, Derren revealed himself as the puppeteer of the hoax and the strangers realised with relief — if, indeed, they weren’t in on the act — that they had been victims of a horrible trick.

The experiment was part of Brown’s demonstration of the power of social compliance: following orders because someone in authority tells you it’s the right thing to do.

‘It’s surprisingly easy to pretend to be an authority figure such as a policeman and persuade someone to do something they would never normally do,’ says Brown.

‘Authority can come from a person, a group of like-minded individuals or an ideology,’ he says. ‘It can help keep public order but it can also push people to commit terrible acts. Can social compliance make someone push a living, breathing human being to their death?’

‘Yes’ was the resounding answer — even if, in this case, the actor playing the millionaire was safely attached to a harness.

Authority can come from a person, a group of like-minded individuals or an ideology. It can help keep public order but it can also push people to commit terrible acts

Derren Brown 

Of course, some of us are naturally more susceptible to peer pressure and following orders than others.

‘Social compliance in various forms is something I work with time and again,’ says Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist in North London. ‘People can be deeply affected by group values and a mentality of “keeping up with the Joneses”.

‘The importance of being part of a group has its roots in evolution. It kept us safe. Being ostracised could kill us. It can take a certain amount of courage to step outside our peer group and be an individual.’

To recruit four exceptionally socially compliant volunteers, Derren Brown auditioned 2,000 members of the public. As part of the vetting process, the potential volunteers were called into a room to be interviewed in groups of four: however, three of the four were planted as actors and only one was a genuine volunteer.

A bell then went off and the three actors in the room stood up automatically. The four contestants who were eventually chosen had shown their compliance by immediately following suit and quickly standing up. At the fake charity auction, Brown — concealed behind the scenes — introduced hidden elements to make his impressionable victims even more compliant.

For example, while other guests wore smart suits, the four volunteers were casually dressed, meaning they felt one down compared to their formally dressed companions.

Within seconds, they accepted a deferential role, following orders to fetch drinks and carry bags for their apparent superiors.

Their propensity for deference and social compliance was intensified by a celebrity element: actor David Tennant, singer Robbie Williams and Stephen Fry — all in on the scam — gave video appeals in aid of the fake charity.

Brown also employed the ‘foot-in-the-door technique’ — the principle that, if you do someone a small favour, you’ll then be more inclined to do a bigger one for them, too, because you’ve already accepted a deferential role.

Pretending the vegetarian food had run out, the ‘charity head’ asked the volunteers an awkward favour: to fraudulently tell veggie guests that the sausage rolls on offer were meat-free. From this small lie, the criminality escalated until three of them were prepared to kill.

For all its elaborate brilliance, Brown’s experiment is not new. For half a century, scientists have been proving how law-abiding, apparently moral humans are prepared to inflict pain when instructed to do so.

The most famous experiment was carried out by Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist who died in 1984.

Milgram was inspired by the 1961 trial of the Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann defended himself in court by saying he was only following orders when he arranged the mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust.

‘The person who, with inner conviction, loathes stealing, killing and assault may find himself performing these acts with relative ease when commanded by authority,’ Milgram wrote in his 1974 book Obedience To Authority.

‘Behaviour that is unthinkable in an individual who is acting on his own may be executed without hesitation when carried out under orders.’

In 1961, Milgram set up his spine-chilling experiment at Yale University in which volunteers were asked by a scientist to inflict electric shocks on a mild-mannered, 47-year-old accountant.

The participants were told the experiment was investigating whether punishment made people better at learning. Every time the accountant got an answer wrong, the volunteers were asked to give him an electric shock.

In reality, no actual shock was inflicted, but the volunteers thought they were delivering shocks ranging from 15 to 450 volts. Each time the accountant got an answer wrong, the volunteers were asked to increase the voltage.

Of 40 volunteers, 26 kept on obeying orders to the end, raising the shock level to the maximum 450 volts, and applying that three times.

In the first version of Milgram’s experiment, the victim was placed in a separate room from the volunteers, where he couldn’t be seen. At 300 volts, though, they could hear him banging on the wall. Most volunteers still raised the voltage to 315 volts — when the banging on the wall ominously stopped.

The nearer the volunteer was to the victim, the less likely he was to give him a shock. When the volunteer was in the same room as the victim — and had to place the victim’s hand on the electric plate — 70 per cent refused to continue.

Milgram’s conclusions were horrifying. He said that, for many people, there were no limits to their obedience.

‘Cries from the victim were inserted; they were not good enough,’ Milgram said. ‘The victim claimed heart trouble; subjects still shocked him on command. The victim pleaded to be let free . . .subjects continued to shock him.’ Milgram tested different groups of volunteers. An all-women group was just as ready to shock the victim, although they reported higher levels of stress than men.

Social compliance in various forms is something I work with time and again. People can be deeply affected by group values and a mentality of 'keeping up with the Joneses'

 Julia Bueno, psychotherapist

In a separate experiment in 1972, scientists at Missouri University and the University of California asked volunteers to give a puppy genuine, but harmless, electric shocks. Half the male volunteers, and all the female volunteers, agreed.

In 2010, a French documentary — Le Jeu De La Mort (The Game of Death) — carried out the Milgram experiment, disguising it as a game show. Of the 80 contestants, 66 gave their victims electric shocks to the highest voltage level. In a related test in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment at Stanford University, California, divided volunteers into prisoners and guards.

The experiment was supposed to last a fortnight but it had to be stopped after six days, when the guards grew unbearably brutal to the prisoners.

The scientists concluded the guards were aggressive because they conformed obediently to their role, which was enhanced by wearing a guard’s uniform.

The results of Milgram tests hardly vary across the world. Dr Thomas Blass, a Milgram expert from Maryland University, has determined that 61 per cent of American volunteers have agreed to inflict the maximum voltage; 66 per cent of non-American volunteers have done the same.

It’s hard, then, not to agree with Derren Brown’s conclusions last night. Indeed, the most shocking thing about his experiment is that the results are not shocking at all.

‘It’s like we’re handed other people’s scripts of how to live our lives to achieve their ambitions and beliefs,’ says Brown. ‘But by understanding how we can be manipulated, we can become stronger; we can say no.’

If you are one of the volunteers who took part in last night’s show — or know any of them — we’d love to hear from you. Please email: derrenbrown@dailymail.co.uk

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3396758/As-TV-illusionist-Derren-Brown-persuades-two-ordinary-women-push-stranger-roof-talked-MURDER.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=149

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