I experienced something very interesting on a conference the other day. A prime example of manipulation. Of course, my colleague who was one of the guinea pigs on stage claimed that he wasn’t manipulated at all, that it was all a simple trick of cheating, but I disagree.
The guy on stage had five envelopes. In one he put a big money bill. Then he mixed them, wrote numbers on them and called up four volunteers to enter the stage. They each got to select a number from 1 to 5, representing the envelopes. Then he invited them in turn (in opposite order) to select one of four chairs and take a seat. As it turned out, none of them had got the money. Their envelopes contained one big letter each and they formed a word. Not only did he keep his money, he also placed them in the chairs where he wanted them to be.
This is how I claimed he did it: For the first guy he said “you have one, two, three, four or five. Which one do you select?” Except that what he said was “we have one, two, three, four or five”. My first thought was “the money is in number two”. To my surprise the guy took number one.
Then he went to the second person and said “it is very common that the next person follows the pattern and takes the next number in line”. She, aware that he is manipulating them, doesn’t want to follow the pattern and selects three.
To the third – a woman – he holds them up in order with five on top and two at the bottom and said “it’s like shopping, you don’t want to buy too expensive or too cheap”. She picks four.
Then he comes to the last guy – my colleague - and holds the five in the height of his face and the two in the height of his crouch. My colleague picks number five and gets the comment that it is very common that we prefer something in eye-height.
I’m not quite sure how he succeeded with the chairs, but to me it is obvious that he put the envelopes in the exact right hands.
The money was in number two.
Now, my colleague claims that the numbers on the envelopes didn’t match the numbers that it seemed like he wrote after shuffling them. His conclusion is that he wrote the numbers afterwards – the envelopes were never out of the audience sight, mind you. I agree that he didn’t write the numbers on a whim after having mixed them. Since they did contain a letter that he needed to keep a track of, he had of course numbered them in advance.
The theme for the session was how we make our decisions. There is no reason why he should have used magic tricks. And I don’t think that he couldn’t handle to lose some prestige and some money if someone really picked the envelope with the money.
I think he knew exactly how to make things go his way.