Magic is a popular pastime for children and adults. While a great many magic tricks require the magician carry a certain amount of equipment such as a deck of cards, a thumb tip or some sponge balls, there is a branch of magic that can be performed with no materials whatsoever. This is mentalism, or psychological magic. Mentalism relies on the power of suggestion and a basic knowledge of human psychology to mimic mind reading effects.
Select a volunteer who you can rely on to be receptive to your instructions. Do not pick anybody who is obviously immature, obviously drunk or who may react negatively to being tricked. Your ideal volunteer should be reasonably intelligent, with a sense of fun and a willingness to play along.
Prepare your volunteer for the trick. While the object of magic is to entertain, it is essential that your volunteer take the trick seriously. The best way for you to do this is for you to take the trick seriously yourself. Warn your volunteer that the trick will only work if he follows directions. Also, try and frame the trick as a collaborative endeavor. You and your volunteer are going to work together to make the trick work.
Treat your volunteer with respect at all times. In order to give mentalism tricks the best chance of succeeding, you must have a rapport with your volunteer. If you make fun of them, especially if you're performing in front of an audience, you encourage them to disobey your instructions in order to make you look foolish.
Ask your volunteer to think of a vegetable. John Thompson, in his book "Naked Mentalism," cites a study which shows that 98 percent of volunteers posed this question will immediately think of either a carrot, lettuce or tomato.
Discount tomato as a possible answer by saying "I should mention a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable." If your volunteer has chosen a tomato, he will react and you can claim victory. If your volunteer does not react, you can assume with a large degree of certainty that he is thinking of a carrot or lettuce.
Discount lettuce as a possible answer by saying "You're not thinking of a green vegetable, are you?" This specific phrasing is important. If your volunteer says "Yes," then you can guess lettuce with a high degree of confidence. If he says "No," you can say "No, I didn't think you were. I nearly said lettuce, but then thought better of it." Now you can guess that he is thinking of a carrot with 98 percent certainty.
Tips & Warnings
- If you are interested in learning more impressive effects that can be carried out without equipment, take the opportunity to research the work of British illusionist Derren Brown or American illusionist Steve 'Banachek' Shaw, both of whom have numerous videos on YouTube.
- You may find the following introductory speech useful when embarking upon mentalism effects, although you may well wish to tailor it to suit your specific style. "Thanks for volunteering. Now, we're going to try something a little different. It's kind of a mind-to-mind thing, and there's a chance that it may genuinely not work, but I've got a feeling that you'll probably be quite good at this, so I reckon that together, we may be able to pull it off. In order to give us the best chance of succeeding, you'll need to follow my instructions exactly. Now, take a deep breath and try to clear your mind."
- Naked Mentalism; Jon Thompson; Lulu; 1978
- Photo Credit Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images