What is Mentalism? Everything You Should Know About Mentalists

What is Mentalism?

Almost everyone has seen an episode of The Mentalist, where Patrick Jane uses his so-called magic powers to help the authorities solve crimes. Now that maybe just a TV show and the powers of the mentalist there are well over-exaggerated but mentalists in real life are capable of mind-blowing tricks and best of all anyone can learn these tricks and be a mentalist.

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What is Mentalism?

Mentalism is a form of magic, a performing art that focuses on mind, manipulation, and imagination. Unlike what others would think, mentalism doesn’t involve the use of voodoo or black magic as you would call it. Rather it involves the application of psychology and several other techniques that make it seem almost scientific.

Who is a Mentalist?

A mentalist is someone who practices mentalism. Someone who seemingly possesses increased mental powers thus able to read minds, control minds, hypnotize, or perform divination. Some mentalists like Uri Geller and Derren Brown even take their acts to higher levels by performing clairvoyance, precognition, mediumship, deduction, psychokinesis, and rapid mathematics.

How Do Mentalists Perform Their Tricks

Seeing a mentalist read minds or put someone in hypnosis can be really amazing and for some of us, those feats should be impossible. Something you should know is that mentalist tricks are nothing more than illusions.

Mentalists are able to make the impossible look possible by tricking the brain. In some cases, they do not need to trick the brain at all.  Some mentalist tricks are simply a matter of controlled probability that allows the performer to restrict the audiences’ options making it easier for them to guess their answer.

For example, take a look at this popular mentalist trick called Grey Elephants from Denmark

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Step 1: Pick a number between 1 and 9.

Lets say 7

Step 2: Multiple that number by 2

7 x 2 = 14

Step 3: Add 8 to result

14 + 8 = 22

Step 4: Divide by 2

22 / 2 = 11

Step 5: Subtract the first number you picked from the answer above.

11 – 7 = 4

Step 6: Match the final number with the corresponding letter of the alphabet (E: A-1, B-2, C-3, D-4, E-5, etc).

The number is 4 and the alphabet is D

Step 7: Think of any country that starts with that letter.

Denmark is the most favorable choice

Step 8: Pick the next letter after that one and think of an animal that starts with that letter

The next letter is E and the animal is an Elephant

Step 9: Think of the color of that animal

That’s Grey

In the end, you have Denmark, Elephant, and Grey

Grey Elephant From Denmark Trick Explained

Earlier, I said,

“Some mentalist tricks are simply a matter of controlled probability that allows the performer to restrict the audiences’ options making it easier for them to guess their answer“.

In the case of this trick, the controlled probability happens in Step 5. Regardless of the number you choose, you will still end up with the answer 4 in Step 5. The mentalist knows this and simply uses all the other math computations in Step 1 – 4 to confuse your mind and make it look like magic.

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In Step 6, you’re to match the final number with the corresponding letter of the alphabet and then pick a country that starts with that alphabet in Step 7. Since you would always end with 4 as the answer, you will always pick D as the alphabet.

When choosing a country that starts with the letter D, there are a few options to pick from. You could choose the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, but most people would go for Denmark.

The next step is to pick the next letter and think of an animal that starts with that letter. Once again you could choose Eagle, Elephant, Elk, Earthworm, or Echnida.

These are many options and any mentalist would be lucky to get it right. But mentalists are smart and they have a way around this. They ask you to pick the color of the animal. With that, the options instantly reduce and you’re left with only a Grey Elephant.

Finally, you’ve got a Grey Elephant From Denmark.

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The Basics Of Mentalism

With the right steps, a mentalist could make an elephant appear, make liquid appear in an empty glass, or read minds. Now, these feats are amazing even if they are just tricks and nothing more.

A mentalist is able to make all these tricks blow your mind not by lighting candles or drawing arcane symbols and summoning powers from other dimensions, they perform their acts by following simply scientific rules. These rules make up the basics of mentalism.

Body Language

The mentalist could ask the audience to think of a word or item and repeat it over and over again. While doing this, they would watch out in the audience for those subconsciously muttering the word under the breath. To single out the right person, the mentalist would have to be very observant so that they would be able to guess the word the particular person was thinking of.


How do mentalists wave a card and change it by snapping their fingers? Misdirection! But that’s not all. Misdirection also includes planting a thought in someone’s mind without them noticing it.

Or simply put, it is when a mentalist draws the audience’s attention to one thing to distract them from another. Misdirection is often called the cornerstone of nearly all successful tricks. It uses the loophole in the human mind to create an illusion of real magic.


Mind control or reading people’s minds and for some psychics reading people’s future is easily achieved when you know a little more about them.  Mentalists can easily make predictions by asking individuals about their hobbies, professions, and anything that could help them make the person less mysterious.

There is definitely more to how mentalists make your eyes widen in disbelief to their tricks, but these should help you get started if you hope to be a mentalist.

You would be surprised that great magical acts like David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear involved only misdirection and no real magic.

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The History of Mentalism Magic

The history of mentalism can be traced far back into the thousands of years to the accounts of seers and oracles in ancient Greek and in the Old Testament of the Bible. However, most of the acts performed by modern mentalists can be traced directly to tests of supernatural power carried out by spiritualists, psychics, and mediums in the 19th century.  

One of the earliest on record mentalism performances was by the sleight-of-hand magician Girolamo Scotto in 1572. Mentalism performances have since evolved from the use of sleights, feints, misdirection, and other skills of street or stage magic to include several other forms of performing arts, such as telepathy, rapid mathematics, cold reading, and clairvoyance.

Mentalist Or Magician

Magician, performer, hypnotist, illusionist, psychic – these are terms often used to describe the profession of mentalism, however, they are all different forms of performing arts. The skill-set of a magician greatly differs from that of a mentalist, in the sense that, they both employ different principles in their performances.  

The fact that mentalists do not make do not mix traditional magic tricks and theatrical props into their act is one reason why they can’t be considered as magicians. In addition, many mentalists do not consider themselves as mentalist due to the difference in both performing arts.

With mentalism, the aim is to invoke belief by playing on the senses (mind) and the spectator’s view of tricks. Magicians, on the other hand, are tricksters and entertainers who perform their tricks by asking the audience to allow their imagination to play with the various tricks they perform.

However, both arts intermix, and together they can bring about incredible tricks and illusions.  While many mentalists do not mix traditional magic tricks and theatrical props into their act, there are many others who do. These include notable mentalists like The Amazing Kreskin, Derren Brown, Richard Osterlind, and Joseph Dunninger.

There are also several magicians that mix magic with mentalism. Some renowned magicians known to mix magic with mental magic include Dynamo and David Copperfield.

How To Study Mentalism

Unlike a course that you can study in the university and gain a degree if you work hard enough, mentalism is something you can easily learn by developing mentalist psychology. There are several mentalism courses available but none will make you a great mentalist if you’re not observant, great at reading body language, and confident.

These courses might set you on the right path, but you would have to develop yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically before you can grasp the true depths of what it is to become a mentalist.

How To Practice Mentalism

When starting out, you would want to use your friends and family members for practice. They should help you develop confidence and build the right psychology needed to move to a larger audience.

Most mentalists spend years perfecting their craft before moving to the public stage. You should spend as much time honing your mental skills until you’re able to perform mentalism tricks with ease. 

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Famous Mentalists

Derren Brown

He is perhaps the most well-known mentalist of the modern age. He is also known as the master of mind control with several successful performances to his name. Some of his works involved convincing someone that they were actually in a video game and tricking the audience into believing that they are stuck in their seats.

Derren Brown is one of the few mentalists that mix mentalism with magic. To achieve his illusions, he uses methods including traditional magic, conjuring techniques, hypnosis, cold reading, cognitive psychology, and memory techniques.

Uri Geller

Among his many titles, he is an Israeli-British mentalist best-known for his spoon bending trick and several other seemingly impossible illusions. Geller gained mainstream attention through performances which included making watches stop or run faster, describing hidden drawings, and bending spoons.

He was also the centre of controversy as he claimed his feats were as a result of paranormal powers rather than simply magic tricks.


Banachek is another famous English mentalist best-known for the bullet catching trick. Banachek is another mentalist who not only mixes mentalism with magic, but refers to himself as a magician.

Mentalism Tricks You Can Try At Home

Red Hammer Trick

The red hammer trick is one of the easiest tricks in the book, though the grey elephant from Denmark trick is a lot easier. Just like the classic elephant trick, this is a mind-reading trick, however, it requires more skill.

To perform this trick, you will give the subject (the person you’re performing the trick on) a piece of paper with the prediction of the last answer the person will give to the question you will ask them. You will tell them not to open the paper until they answer the last question.

Then, ask them the following questions:

  • What Day is Christmas?
  • What number is between 1 and 3?
  • What government did the USSR have?
  • What are hamburgers made of?
  • What side of the road do they drive on in Europe?
  • Think of a color and a tool?

With the last question, you ask them to answer very fast and then open the paper. The answer should be a red hammer which you have already written on the paper.

This trick works by implanting the image of the USSR flag into the mind of the subject. The USSR flag was red and on it was a sickle and a hammer. The other questions are just there to cover your tracks and make you look like a mind reader

The Triangle in a Circle Trick

To do this trick, draw a circle and then draw a triangle in the circle on a paper and keep it aside. Then ask your subject to draw two shapes with one of them inside the other and when they’re done, you give them your own prediction to compare with theirs.

Before asking them to draw the shapes, you would have to indirectly illustrate your own drawing visually to the subject through your explanation of the trick. This way, the subject would be more likely to draw a triangle in a circle.

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