It’s common practice to reply to a naughty child’s desperate claims that they only misbehaved because their friend told them to with a question along the lines of, “well, if your friends told you to jump off a cliff, would you?”
The answer is yes…given the right circumstances. In The Push, Derren Brown reveals that in some cases, people can be driven to behave in unimaginable ways if other people push them hard enough, and adults are just as susceptible to this as children.
In this spectacular and controversial series, Derren Brown asks just how far it is possible to push ordinary people. Through showmanship and manipulation, he attempts to convince participants to perform terrifying acts from stealing a baby to murdering an injured colleague.
To select his participants for the show, Brown shortlisted candidates from an open audition by using psychological testing to choose the subjects with the highest conformity – which means, in a psychological context, the tendency to match your own behaviour or thoughts to that of your social group – and subjecting them to an elaborate set-up involving the fictional charity called Push, countless actors, and some celebrity appearances.
The series attracted critical acclaim and high viewing figures, but was a step too far for some viewers, who were concerned about the ethics of subjecting participants to situations in which they believe they are murdering people to save their own skin, and the potential long-lasting effects on their mental health of knowing they were willing to kill another person, even though the murder itself was an illusion.
Who is Derren Brown?
Derren Brown is a British psychological illusionist who uses his skills in psychological manipulation and showmanship to entertain the public and expose the so-called supernatural powers of faith healers, mediums, and others. Born in Croydon, he studied Law and German at the University of Bristol where he developed his passion for illusion and hypnosis after seeing his first hypnotist show. He then began performing under the name Darren V. Brown, and with the help of the magician Jerry Sadowitz, he landed his first television show with Objective Productions, Mind Control, which was a huge success. Almost 20 years on, his television shows remain hugely popular.
Derren Brown: The Push is legal because no one was actually killed during any of the ‘murders’ represented on the show – although disturbingly, it did reveal how with the right cues, ordinary people are willing to commit murder when they feel pressured to do so by others.
As for the participants, they all technically agreed to take part in Brown’s psychological experiments prior to the show via various consent forms, but these forms are typically worded in such a way that whilst they are giving consent to take part in the show, they cannot predict what will happen to them.