Psychology of Masterclasses – Bobo the Hypnotist

The other day I came across this video excerpt from a masterclass by the great tubist Roger Bobo.  In this short clip Bobo explains that focusing on technique when you should simply be playing can work against you.  He then, using a volunteer, sets up a powerful demonstration that shows how thinking too much can screw you up, even while doing something as simple as carrying a bowl of water.  Watch the video and try it out yourself.

A dramatic effect, and Bobo has a good point about focus, but I’m going to call shenanigans on his demonstration.

Whether or not Bobo is even aware of it, he’s using psychological principles to influence his volunteer to play along.  These influences are so subtle that his volunteer is probably not even aware of it.

Performances like this start with the proper selection of a volunteer, which we don’t see in Bobo’s demonstration.  Stage hypnotists, for example, want extroverts who are creative and have an active imagination.  Sound like a musician?

Next, Bobo sets up the trick by telling his volunteer exactly what is expected to happen, without actually telling her.  He talks about “paralysis by analysis” and right from the get go sets up the belief that you can’t think and do at the same time.  He sprinkles his volunteer with water, implanting the idea in her mind that she’s going to get wet.  After the “control” demonstration he even further implants in her mind that she’s going to spill the water by drawing her attention to her arms and the sloshing water.  Then he makes sure that her movements are going to be jerky by asking her to verbalize what she’s doing.

Try it out yourself.  If you really don’t think you can verbalize while you walk with a bowl of water you might have trouble at first, but I was able to do so fairly easily.

Bobo’s performance of this is smooth, but not as smooth as someone like Derren Brown doing a very similar effect.

Do you think Bobo knew exactly what he was doing with this demonstration or was he perhaps unaware of how he was influencing his volunteer?  If his point is valid (and I have argued earlier that his attitude is a false dichotomy), does it matter if his demonstration isn’t honest?

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