What Is a Mentalist?

Magicians are a mainstay of entertainment around the world, but far fewer people are familiar with mentalists. While shows like The Mentalist have helped spread more awareness of the performance art, many people still end up scratching their heads when they see a poster advertising a mentalist.

To help people learn more about mentalism and what it involves, here is a brief rundown of the spectacular, logic-defying art:

Mentalism Explained

The simplest explanation of mentalism is that it resembles mind-reading. However, saying a mentalist can read minds is like saying a magician has supernatural powers. While either of these abilities would certainly be exciting, performance art would be the least practical use of those skills compared to, say, calling football plays based on what the other coach is thinking.

Instead, like close up magic, mentalism is a performance art. The chief difference between magicians and mentalists is that a skilled magician knows how to use body language for misdirection while using their incredibly dexterous hands to perform feats.

A mentalist, by comparison, uses spoken language to misdirect and their eyes to perform incredible feats. By closely observing their subject and making inferences based on subtle body language, they can direct the conversation in a way that seems unsettlingly uncanny — almost like they read the subject’s mind. For instance, a great mentalist can determine where you are from based on your clothing, accent and other factors. They can then use this information to infer life experiences.

The real skill comes in with the fact that a mentalist almost always withholds this gleaned information until the most dramatic moment possible to reveal. Like a close-up magician, they tease their audience with smaller feats of observation before “dropping the bomb” and shocking their subject by guessing something that seems quite intimate. In this way, mentalists dazzle their audience and keep them constantly wondering, “How did he do that?”

Wait, Did You Say “Guess”?

Actually, yes, we did. Mentalists generally make no bones about the fact that they are performers. Many of them actually embrace this humble persona then shock and amaze by defying expectations with their uncanny guessing abilities.

Of course, not every guess will be correct, but mentalists do not make a habit of “shotgunning” wrong answers until one sticks. Instead, they converse with their subject and look for “tells” — physical signs built into body language like blinks and twitches — to determine if they are on the right path. Then, when they are confident, they will reveal the information they gleaned at the most impactful moment possible.

As you can tell, watching a mentalist in Miami can be quite an entertaining and baffling spectacle. Mentalists can almost be more impressive than magicians because they work without props. “Nothing up my sleeve” becomes an understatement when all a mentalist has is their wits and their eyes.

Check out what a great mentalist can really do by visiting our videos page.