Behaviorism and mentalism are two theories that you learn about in a psychology course. Behaviorism is based on observation and empirical evidence, whereas mentalism relies on pure belief. The theory of behaviorism suggests that behavior is simply a conditioned response to certain triggers, or stimuli, that occurs without regard to feelings. By contrast, mentalism is a theory based on the perceived power of thought processes, learned through experience or through an apprenticeship with an experienced mentalist.
Behaviorism is a theory that is based around the study of behaviors in humans and animals in response to negative or positive stimulation. One of the most well-known studies in behaviorism is the study conducted by Ivan Pavlov. He observed that, over time, a dog would begin to salivate after hearing a bell ring because the dog associated it with food being placed in front of it. Dogs naturally salivate in the presence of meat, which is an unconditioned response to the simulus of food. Repeated bell ringing associated with feeding is a conditioned stimulus that causes a dog to salivate when a bell is rung, even if food is not offered. This experiment demonstrates what is known as classic conditioning in behavioral learning theory.
Operant conditioning is another aspect of behaviorism that studies the behaviors of humans and animals that operate on environmental factors that create negative or positive consequences. Also known as response-stimulus, operant conditioning allows the study participant to associate certain behaviors with either positive or negative consequences and learn from these consequences. One example was found by Edward Thorndike, who observed that cats in a puzzle box associated getting out of the maze with a food reward. This positive reinforcement shaped the behavior of the cats and conditioned them to immediately open the trap door for the reward.
Mentalism is a part of the field of magic that states that phenomena in the physical and psychological realms are performed by magicians who supposedly possess intuitive and mental powers that are highly developed. Some tricks that are a part of mentalism include mind reading and hypnosis. The illusion of a highly developed intuition is meant to convince the audience that the magician has a connection to the spiritual world or that he possesses supernatural powers.
A mentalist can perform a variety of tricks that convince the audience that she has extreme mental powers. Some of these tricks include psychokinesis, fortune telling, spoon bending and mind reading. A mentalist also may try to predict outcomes of games, answer questions without knowing the question or burn stigmata of a secretly selected symbol into her skin. Some tricks may have harmful drawbacks, such as skin burns, explosions or physical injury from full-body contact.