Inside Story

Monday 12 May, 9.30pm

Using the latest scientific research and specially designed experiments, this week’s episode of Brain Power will investigate how mind control can work in positive and negative ways.

By understanding the balance between conscious and unconscious control, it’s possible to take more command of our bodies and our brains. Top scoring ex-All Black Grant Fox tells Brain Power he knows only too well what happens when you try to take conscious control of your brain’s autopilot. He had a routine he performed every time he kicked for goal. Normally he didn’t think about it, it just happened automatically, but when he took conscious control, it was a very different story. He says, “I had one prolonged period in 1985 for six weeks, where I really struggled; I tried to consciously plot my run up. I just lost it.” Luckily for Fox, and New Zealand, the over-thinking didn’t last for long and he got his form back.
But this mind control isn’t just for the elite sportsman. Five ordinary New Zealanders, known affectionately as ‘Lab Rats’, undergo Brain Power experiments to see how far their subconscious can be pushed. In this episode, the team tests hypnosis. Dr Rachel Morrison, a behavioural scientist who supervised the experiments, says: “About 20 per cent of people are more difficult to hypnotise than others; but I was surprised at how strongly the Lab Rats who were hypnotised did respond.”

There are several theories to explain hypnosis; one is hyper-suggestibility – the idea that the hypnotist’s words are accepted with less discretion than would normally be the case by the subject. It has also been speculated that hypnotised subjects simply behave in a way they expect hypnotised people to behave – this is called the social compliance theory. However, more and more experiments suggest hypnosis may have a physical basis. To test this, the Brain Power team decide to see what is actually happening inside a hypnotised brain. Stacey, one of the Lab Rats, volunteers for an fMRI brain scan to investigate if hypnosis can change your brain activity.

Brain Power’s ‘Joe Average’ Jon Reeves also undertakes to learn to be a convincing liar. He’s interrogated by two seasoned private detectives and must learn to control his unconscious giveaways as his brain processes a lie. Gus Roxburgh says, “Agencies like the FBI, CIA and KGB spend years teaching their operatives to lie successfully and sometimes even they get it wrong. So this was a big challenge for Jon.”

And, not to be outdone, presenter Gus Roxburgh takes on the challenge to condition his brain to fear something as harmless as a banana. He says “We linked pain to bananas in an attempt to see how easily my brain could be manipulated. It wasn’t the most pleasant part of the television-making process, but I was surprised by the results.”

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