The psychological tricks of faith healing, explained | Derren Brown | Big Think

The psychological tricks of faith healing, explained | Derren Brown | Big Think


So, I did a show called Miracle, which it’s
on Netflix at the moment. And the second half of it was faith healing,
which was a bold move because I knew my audiences wouldn’t believe in it any more than I do,
which is not at all essential in terms of anything divine happening. And we are talking like that kind of evangelical
faith healing people being slain in the spirit and shaking around on stage and their aches
and pains going and so on. I had seen a lot of that at work and was fascinated
to see if I could get it to work and what that would mean within the context of a show
where people are approaching it skeptically like me. And it was amazing it was an extraordinary
thing to do and to do every night and it did work very well. What I got from that and what it highlighted
was the psychological component of suffering. And essentially the way that it works, the
way that sort of healing works, aside from a few very specific tricks that some of those
so-called healers use, and incidentally it’s not remotely a criticism of religious belief
it’s kind of a scam that hijacks sincere belief in its own name so this is a criticism
of the scam certainly not religion or anyone’s belief. So, aside from a few specific tricks that
are like magic tricks that get pulled off, what’s essentially happening psychologically,
and this is what I created in the show, was you get a lot of adrenaline going because
adrenaline is essentially a painkiller and if you’ve got an ache in your back but you’re
made to feel a bunch of adrenaline you’re not going to feel that pain any more than
if you’ve stubbed your toe and it hurts and a tiger walks into the room you’re not
going to be bothered by the toe you’re just getting out in the room. So, you create a lot of adrenaline and then
generally the way these things work is you invite people forward and then there’s a
filtering process so by the time that people are coming up on stage they’ve been filtered
to the people that are going to suit the show the best and have the best sort of testimony
of what’s just happened. And then the other aspect of it is that you’re
interrupting a story, you’re interrupting the story that someone is living of their
particular ailment. And this is where it gets really interesting
because you start to see this gray area between – for example, somebody came up in the first
week and they had been paralyzed down one side of their body since they were a child
and she was in floods of tears because she could move her arm. And if you would have x-rayed her before and
afterwards there’s clearly nothing changes, but I was sort of reminded that I sort of
had a bursitis in my shoulder I had like a bad shoulder and for a long time I had been
putting on a jacket with a dead arm and my shoulder had sort of got better, but I just
really got in the habit of putting on a jacket like this. And probably if someone had said your shoulder
is healed and made a big deal of it and given me a little burst of adrenaline anyway and
he said now put on your jacket normally I’m sure I would have done that and got oh my
god that’s amazing. How did you just do that? Which the reality is I could have done it
like that anyway. And I think at some level that’s sort of
way of you just get into a habit and you start to identify with a particular element seems
to create sort of a large section of our experience of what’s wrong with us and these sort of
psychological processes, this sort of healing is highlighting that, it’s leaning into
that. So, it’s very effective and I’ve had people
years after that show saying that it worked – I thought it would maybe work for the five
minutes they were on stage, but I’ve had people years afterwards saying I’ve watched
the show on TV and my pain is gone, my golf injury is gone and we’re dealing with very
small percentages obviously so I’m not claiming anything beyond that it’s very small percentages,
but the experience of what someone’s narrative is around their condition, combined with a
bit of showmanship, it was kind of extraordinary and as a real skeptic myself going into it
it was fascinating. And then of course you start to see how the
person doing it starts to go mad how you could see yourself as a God figure if you’re doing
it within that context because people are treating you as God because they’re seeing
God coming through. That’s the illusion you’re creating.

Comments

(18 Comments)

  • Jim A

    I want more DERREN!!!!

  • Monkey See Monkey Do

    A lot of filipinon faith healers

  • Bub Gaming

    My gosh Derren you look so different, good but different!

    Love your work, I reckon you'd like to divulge my mind.

  • Ruan S. P.

    South Park, anyone ?

  • Mike Van Horne

    I kinda miss Tammy Fay….

  • Orange Window

    Dislikes from faith healer scammers

  • GODLESS101

    I once had a friend whose father was a reverend in one of those crazy faith healing churches and my friend told me that while he was waiting back stage in the lineup waiting to get "healed" he asked one of the people directing the whole charade "what should I do if nothing happens?" The person apparently replied "just fall on the ground and start flopping around LIKE EVERYONE ELSE." If I remember correctly my friend was about 13 or 14 at the time and standing in line directly behind him was his even younger brother who was like 5 or 6. Now if you ask me this is borderline child abuse. It's onr of the many reasons why I am incredibly skeptical that anyone really believes in god. I don't believe what they mean by "belief" and what I mean by "belief" is the same thing. I think most people are pretending to some degree because maybe dropping to the floor and flopping around like a fish and going to church are easier then having a talk with your father who is a reverend and saying "this god thing is a whole bunch of shit . . . Isn't it?" Oh and the family was pretty wealthy and I have to wonder how much of that wealth came from trocking gullible idiots into emptying their wallets.

  • psimon

    It also has to do with the sort of demographic that goes to these events in the first place.

  • ChubbyChecker182

    Derren is looking well old.

  • Homo Quantum Sapiens

    Rephrased: the psychology of mental masturbation

  • raedwulf westera

    Just as much of 'modern medicine' seeks to convince us that its effectiveness is some improvement over placebo.

  • Ed !

    I can't believe that how i was Sund like 😥

  • Optimus Phoenix Prime

    It may help some people
    But it's not going to necessary make them more intelligent
    The difference is understanding genetics and epigenetics verse faith
    Maybe faith helps them to think positive
    That may lead to less stress and healing
    But it doesn't necessarily teach them anything
    Why learn if you can believe
    So it has it's pit falls or can

  • marcus l

    why are so many gays atheist and sceptical?

  • Optimus Phoenix Prime

    Forgiveness can be positive as well
    Stress kills yo!
    Some will use drugs
    Some faith may work
    Therapy maybe
    Its all about stress
    At the end of the day
    Do we really learn more about life
    Or do we just cast stones
    🕵️‍♀️ sometimes casting stones helps me to release frustration
    Is it good for others?
    Probably not
    Do I get relief for a moment?
    Sometimes
    I have a pre disposition in my stomach
    Why i'm grouchy among other factors
    No free healthcare and dental
    Im troll the world until we all get what we need
    It's the only way to have a healthy society
    And prevention
    I don't give a fuck how
    It needs to get done
    Or give me credit
    Ill pay wtf i can
    But it has to get done
    Or the true cost is going to be ugly
    I can't work if everyday i'm in pain
    The solutions are simple
    Unless it gets worse
    Cheaper now then later

  • Donza Thompson

    If People can be Conditioned to feel no pain in a faith healing sort of placebo , it could be just as well that the empirical sciences condition people to feel pain. In fact I’ll bet that thousands of years ago primitive witch doctors were probably more effective than the medical doctors of today. Telling people they have a disease may actually be the cause or the aggravation of it

  • Optimus Phoenix Prime

    Faith isn't going to solve everything
    It also can lead you to believe in other wacky things

  • Optimus Phoenix Prime

    Ill vote Bernie them
    Healthcare is important
    Or Tulsi if she has a shot
    Or yang
    I don't give a fuck as long as it gets done 👍
    War!

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