One of the characters is captured and restrained. If they have information that the Big Bad wants, or if their captors are just feeling a bit sadistic, the bad guys will break out the Mind Probe.
This device will cause a) a lot of fancy flashing lights and electronic effects, b) frightening hallucinations for the captured hero, or c) both. These devices frequently have varying levels of intensity; inevitably, the hero has to suffer the highest one. Confusing and terrifying flashbacks and nightmares are often a long-term result of the Probe, especially if the hero is being made to pay for past transgressions.
While not actually touching the character in any way, when turned on, their subjects will convulse in agony. Sometimes they actually result in usable information. If the character has Telepathy, they can initiate this without the device. A telepath might try to protect themselves with a Psychic Block Defense.
Named for a device in Doctor Who, where similar things were used several times.
Compare the more benign Journey to the Center of the Mind. Compare/contrast Mind Rape — different purpose, similar principle.
See also the Mind Reading Machine. For a slightly different approach, there's the Agony Beam, which doesn't get into a person's mind directly—it's just a good way to convince a person to tell you what you want to know.
Not to be confused with Mind Screw.
Used in Ikki Tousen, where a girl named Gakushin (Yue Jin) can use her kiss to dive in the minds and memories of her victims. When she uses this power on a captured Kan'u in Dragon Destiny, it does NOT go well; not only Gakushin discovers Kan'u's Les Yay crush on Ryuubi, but also has a bloody vision involving Sousou's past self that almost causes her a Villainous BSOD.
One of the things he does is make her believe that her father needs that information - then, that she's burning alive and will die if she doesn't tell him. Huh.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe makes him able to do this to people casually, probing their minds long enough to know if they're up to something. It happens in Death Star; a character senses his attention and it freaks her out, so she instinctively shuts him out by concentrating on the image of a blast door closing and sealing. He decides that she's strong-minded, and although that interests him, ultimately he does nothing, because he managed to remind himself of Padme.
"We're going to empty your memory as we might empty your pockets... Doctor." In the 1980 film Flash Gordon, Dr. Hans Zarkov is subjected to the effects of some sort of twisted alien gizmo◊ that's supposed to erase his mind; he must struggle valiantly to keep his memories intact.
The President's Analyst starts to crack under the pressure of his job, imagining spies are out to get him (and they are). He anxiously rants about "Dr. Chin Hu and his electrodynamic process of thought reform." He's ultimately abducted by The Phone Company, whose mind probe technology is way more sophisticated and dangerous than Hu's.
Inception is based on this. It is about a group of people who, using a special device, enter someone else's dreams, normally to extract key information.
Used twice in the original film series for Planet of the Apes; the mutants in Beneath are able to do this with their Psychic Powers, and it is as painful as usual for the trope, while a mechanical version called the Authenticator appears in Conquest, though there's apparently no pain involved.
Tod uses one on Dick to figure out what it is that makes Marge love him in Mom and Dad Save the World. The device apparently reads surface thoughts, as the first thing that comes up on the machine is "My back hurts."
The Psychic Probe in Isaac Asimov's Robots-Empire-Foundation novels is very complicated. Because the series were originally independent from one another, there are multiple descriptions of what, exactly the probe does; in some cases it directly reads the subjects mind, whereas in others it provides information in the abstract that has to be interpreted by a psychologist. Universal across its portrayals, however, is the warning that it causes severe memory loss and brain damage if used improperly, although in skilled hands it does no worse than cause a few days of weakness. The one time a Psychic Probe does appear in actual usage (The Currents of Space), it is used to remove a surface emotion, except that, by mistake, it removed a similar, much deeper feeling - and everything in between, reducing the subject to an infantile state that could neither read, write, speak or even feed or clean himself. One of the main characters (a rich noble) has a secretary who has been probed into complete loyalty, while another is rumored to use such people for certain other purposes. Foundation and Empire showed that a probe could be blocked by technological interference, although the (technologically illiterate) users thought that the lack of results was because the subject had been isolated for so long that his brainwaves were too alien for the probe to understand. After the failure to probe Lathan Devers, the Emperor's Privy Secretary used his own "psychic probe" to get information from Devers: He offered him $100,000.00.
Legilimency in Harry Potter, particularly as portrayed in the movies.
It's actually portrayed a bit worse in the books, though you don't get to see it. Voldemort essentially destroys the mind of Bertha Jorkins through Legilimency (possibly combined with the Cruciatus curse) who had had a Memory Charm placed on her, shattering her mind in the process. Then he kills her, because she has no mind anymore and thus is now worthless.
But it can also be used in a way similar to the use of veritaserum, as a much less painful and more reliable alternative to torture.
Partially subverted in the Hammers Slammers series, particularly the story called Interrogation Team. There, the mind probe is semi-painless and takes the form of a directed hallucination. BOTH the interrogator and the person being interrogated are given the drug, and a second interrogator asks questions while the first, in rapport with the victim, experiences his/her memories as the questions are asked. The drug in question is a combination truth serum and hallucinogen, and is described by the first interrogator as akin to a drug high. In this particular story, the interrogat-ee comes from a heavily defended town, a "red-pill target" - and when the authorization to nuke the town is given, the interrogator shares one last vision with the interrogated person - as he envisions his baby girl melted by the nuclear blast. Both the interrogator and the interrogated individual were disconnected from the machine when it happened. Creator David Drake does not write nice stories - perhaps because he WAS a interrogator assigned to the 11th Cavalry during the Vietnam War.
In Fingerprints, Rae can use her Psychic Powers to mind-probe people by pressing her fingertips against theirs. The person on the receiving end only feels a slight tingle.
The Tunnels series has the Dark Light, a device used by the Styx for interrogation. It also has a Mind Rape setting which is much less frequently used, as it leaves victims in no condition to answer their questions.
H. Beam Piper's future history usually used the polyencephalographic veridicator, an apparently unbeatable Lie Detector, but in The Cosmic Computer it turns out The Federation also had a mind probe (restricted to military/intelligence use):
"We'll get anything we want out of you," Conn told him. "You know what a mind-probe is? You should; your accomplices used one on my father's secretary. She's a hopeless imbecile now. You'll be, too, when we're through with you. But before then, you'll have given us everything you know." Kelton began to protest. "Conn, you can't do a thing like that!" "A mind-probe is utterly illegal; why, it's a capital offense!" Ledue exclaimed. "Conn I forbid you..." "Judge, don't make me call those guards and have you removed," Conn said.
Done twice by Wyrm in Wyrm. Both times it has an effect like Mind Rape — the first time, Wyrm wasn't expecting it to be so traumatizing; the second time, Wyrm intentionally made it is traumatizing as possible.
In the Star Kings duology by Edmond Hamilton, the protagonist is captured by a villain, who tries to extract a valuable secret from him with a Mind Probe. According to the villain, a few hours would have left him a mindless husk, but since the first minute showed the subject is not the man they're looking for, he got away with just a very severe headache.
Averted in the Lensman series. At one point Kinnison used a "Mind Ray Machine" that produced nothing but a light show, in order to hide his then-new Second-Stage Lensman abilities.
That said, other mind probes had appeared previously in "The Space Museum" and "Frontier in Space", and the Doctor didn't seem too worried about them: he even claimed to have once blown one up because he simply told it the truth (he was going to meet a pink elephant, a giant rabbit, and a purple horse with yellow spots), and the device had been unable to accept it. While it's easier to accept that there are simply a number of forms of mind probe, which vary in nastiness, some prefer the explanation that most time lords are sufficiently duplicitous that it was really the thought of being compelled to tell the truth that alarmed the Castellan.
In the new series episode "Doomsday", the Daleks reveal their own form of the "mind probe": their suckers can extract brainwaves from other species. Daleks being Daleks, this burns out the subject's brain.
Not to mention cooks his head to a crisp...
Poor Adric in "Castrovalva." So many companions before him have been captured and tortured by Big Bads, but he may be the only one to spend an entire story strung up while the Master probes his brain. Even if the kid's ramblings in other stories break your ears, his desperate pleadings of "NO! PLEASE! DON'T MAKE ME DO IT!" when the Master uses the forcibly extracted computations to try and kill the Doctor will break your heart.
The Big Finish audio Caerdroia has the Eighth Doctor complaining about all the various Mind Blasters, Mind Erasers, Mind Scrapers, Mind Peelers, etc. he's constantly being threatened with and finds to be a repetitive, mostly-harmless nuisance. The villain of the story uses something called a Mind Blaster, which he stole from his employers, on the Doctor and does not find it to be a profitable exercise as the Doctor very effortlessly outwits him. Turns out the Doctor's mind contains a croquet course, a waterslide, and some bits of old cheese.
In the Torchwood episode "Sleeper", the team use a mind probe on unwitting sleeper agent Beth, causing her to reveal her alien nature, the implant in her arm, and to tell her "name, rank and serial number" whenever asked a question. It's a very painful process (making for rather uncomfortable viewing).
Ianto: Remember what happened last time you used it?
Jack: That was different. That species has extremely high blood pressure.
The Aurora chair used by Scorpius in Farscape, as well as methods (that can cause hallucinations) used by the Scarrans. (One might also count the neural chip Scorpius put in John Crichton's head as another, alternate method.)
The human Replicators in Stargate SG-1 (and the Asurans in Stargate Atlantis) put their fingers in your brain, extract the necessary information through causing dreamlike delusions, and take them out. This really, really hurts.
Interestingly, whether or not the method works depends on the mental prowess of the victim. In one episode, after Doctor Weir is brought back to life with Replicator nanites, the team infiltrates the Replicator city to steal a ZPM. Weir is captured and subjected to mind probe showing terrible things happening to the rest of the team until - surprise! - it's revealed that she's the one inducing delusions in the Replicators, and the team is actually making its escape from the city completely unhindered. Then stuff blows up.
Also the favored method of Brainiac on Smallville, not surprising since this nanotech version of the character was clearly inspired by SG-1's human replicators.
Also popping up in SG-1 was a frightening spiky ball thing that Anubis implanted in Thor's brain to literally download his knowledge into the ship's computer. It later turned out to be a good thing - when the original Thor was comatose and essentially a vegetable, SG-1 was able to pull Thor's consciousness out of the computer so it could be downloaded into a new cloned body.
Done without technology in Babylon 5 - telepaths simply rip the information from their captive's minds, evidently causing a great deal of pain and a high probability of permanent damage.
On Heroes, Parkman's mind-reading powers eventually evolve to this degree. He uses the Mind Probe in the Dark Future, whereas Present-Day Parkman finds it simpler to just command people to tell him the truth, seeing as how he's also developed mind control powers.
Star Trek has had a number of these, most notably the Klingons' mindsifter and a corrupted "therapeutic" device for the mentally ill. By The Next Generation the Romulans are well known for theirs (simply called Mind Probes).
Star Trek: Voyager. Homaged in the 'Captain Proton' holodeck program in "Thirty Days". The Twin Mistresses of Evil (played by the famous Delaney twins) have Buster Kincaid (played by Harry Kim) chained up so they can use the terrible Brain Probe, which they promise will turn him into their grovelling slave ("By the time we've finished, you'll be begging to tell us everything you know!"). Harry does not seem particularly averse to the idea.
In the V: The Final Battle miniseries, one of the heroes gets caught and put into a "Conversion Chamber" which pumps terrifying hallucinations into her mind with the purpose of brainwashing her. She nearly dies during the process, and is rescued before it can be completed. However, she notices some lingering after-effects (notably, her switch from using one hand to the other.) She's also highly susceptible to manipulation by the Big Bad, who takes advantage of this fact to engineer an escape after being captured by the heroes.
The trope is somewhat subverted with Diana noting that humans are proving resistant to the Conversion process, which makes it impractically slow to use beyond vital individuals they need under their control. When simple interrogation is called for, Diana is more than happy to use older methods like simple torture to get the job done.
In Lost Ben uses some goggles on Alex's boyfriend to keep him under control and away from his daughter.
Red Dwarf has one, when the crew dock on a prison ship.
Variation on Angel, where the mind probe was a burrowing demon that Wolfram and Hart let into Lorne's head to steal the information he had from reading Cordy.
In the Dungeons & Dragons Lords of Madness supplement the mind flayers have a device that will allow them to get truthful answers to any question they ask. They use their tentacles to make a hole, then stick the device in and start asking questions. Then when they take it out, there's a chance that the person they were questioning will go permanently insane. Definitely not fun.
So does, Paranoia, as a mutant ability instead of a device. It's not particularly subtle, causing unconsciousness.
The first Ape Escape game, despite its generally light-hearted and humorous nature throughout, features this just before the Final Boss fight. Specter, using his telekinetic powers, bombards Spike with plasma, goading him to become his Brainwashed servant, or experience greater pain. It's implied that this was the very method used to brainwash Spike's friend Jake. Fortunately, Spike has the Heroic Willpower to resist it.
Halo: The Flood gain access to a host's memories when they infect a person, and they have a hive-mind. Therefore, when the Captain is infected, he has to make a a superhuman effort to keep the parasite from learning information integral to the survival of the good guys until the Master Chief shows up to put him out of his misery.
In Betrayal At Krondor, Gorath is a dark elf who seeks out the humans to convince them to nip the war his kind is planning against them in the bud, because he knows his people can't risk the losses. After being escorted to someone in authority - Prince Arutha, Lord of the West - he is subjected to this to find out if he's being sincere. Which doesn't really work, as he apparently has subconscious defences, so the jury remains out on him for the rest of the game.
The Ethelite of the Eltham family in Nasuverse (specifically, Melty Blood) is a mind-probe/control combination - because of how small and thin it is (a nano-filament) targets generally have no idea that information is being sucked out of them. Canonically, the reason why everyone hates them.
X-Com - UFO Defense features Mind Probes, which tell you the rank/stats of enemy aliens.
Those are just the non-attack version. The Psi-Amps and similar technology allows aliens and properly trained operatives to jump into a target's mind and have a rape old time.
Albedo combines this with Mind Rape in Xenosaga's first Episode. It's more obvious in the (supposedly censored) U/C version (where it actually has all those flashy lights), but even in the JP version, the goal was to find the Y-Data in MOMO (supposedly the last complete copy). He added the Mind Rape for an apparent trap later on.
Schlock Mercenary has mind ripping, lets just say that they'd give up their PG rating if it was actually shown.
In an episode of the original cartoon, Megatron tried to use the Psycho-Probe on an heiress to discover her father's energy formula; her Walking Techbane nature protected her, however.
In Transformers Robots In Disguise the Predacons repeatedly mind-probed a kidnapped human scientist; sometimes this yielded useful information for them and sometimes...not. Despite claims of the probe's dangerous nature, he seemed to survive the experience pretty well. (In an awesome bit of homage, it's described in the exact terms as the G1 version, to the point where the TF Wiki puts both versions on one page.)
Transformers Prime brings the Cortical Psychic Patch, allowing one character to enter another's mind. It's been used multiple times in the series for various reasons (usually Mind Rape).
In the Kim Possible movie 'So the Drama', Doctor Drakken uses a mind probe to take the plans for the Hephaestus Project from Mr. Dr. Possible's mind and use them to make his Lil' Diablo toys. He also tried (and failed) to use lesser mind probing devices on one Dr. Freeman in the episode 'Car Trouble'.
In Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command, Buzz's blueskinned second in command, Mira Nova, has the ability (like all her race) to rummage through memories by literally sticking a hand in the person's brain. This is a side-effect of phasing powers, so all is good.
Subverted in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, when Mentok tries to Mind Probe Ernie Devlin and can't because of a metal plate in the daredevil's head. He's also thwarted by cops wearing aluminum foil hats at one point.
In the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Triceraton invaders use this on Donatello to try and find out where the scientist they're pursuing has gone. But Splinter provides him with psychic assistance, and Don resists the probe.
Parodied in various Looney Tunes cartoons, usually with Bugs Bunnyoutwitting the Evil Scientist trying to swap Bugs' brain with whatever happened to be at hand.
A very literal example in Invader Zim, these seem to be fairly commonly used by the Irken Empire as screw-like probes jammed into victim's heads:
In the episode "Zim Eats Waffles", Zim has a human test subject with a large happiness probe stuck in his head.
The megadoomer episode also showed the enslaved workers on a conquered world turned into package shipping planet to all have these.
Ultron from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has an AI patterned after the human brain. When he decides to eliminate chaos by eliminating everyone in the world, he confronts SHIELD's acting director, Maria Hill, and steals some nuclear missile codes from her brain (see the page pic).