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The Human Mind

Lord Winston in The Human Mind
 The Human Mind
Originally published 30 September 2003

If you've been collared on campus and made to suck lemons or decide whether to trust someone from their face alone, the reasons why should become clear on October 1. That's when The Human Mind, a new BBC1 documentary series presented by Robert Winston, begins, and the many University of Warwick researchers and students who helped with the programme see the results of their efforts.

The three-part series takes a trip through the world of psychology and neuroscience, looking at everything from how we can make ourselves smarter to what control we have over our personalities. At its core are experiments testing the ideas each programme explores, which is where the lemons and the suspect faces come in.

Stian Reimers, research fellow in psychology department, and scientific advisor and researcher on the series, explains. 'Experiments are what lie behind almost everything we know in psychology, but they don't make good TV. So, with the help of colleagues in the department, we tried to come up with fun, visually compelling takes on classic experiments, which are scientifically valid and fun to watch. That means needed to test people on our new experiments, to make sure they worked, before we got the film crew in.'

'For example, we know that introverts produce more saliva in response to a drop of lemon on the tongue than extroverts do. But how do you show that without putting people off their dinner? We decided to get people to lick gummed packing tape - the more they can lick, the more saliva they're producing. We tried it out on people we stopped on campus, and to our surprise it gave incredibly clear results. So a few weeks later, we took over part of Spitalfields market - with its ready supply of lemons - and filmed it.' Did it work? You'll have to watch the programme.

But providing volunteers wasn't the limit of university involvement. Warwick was also the venue for some of the filming. Lord Winston came to the psychology department to have his moments of inspiration measured using the Institute for Applied Cognitive Science's brain monitoring equipment.

On top of good TV, Reimers hopes that good science can come out of the project too. 'We're running an experiment, as a tie-in with the programme's website, which we hope will give us tens of thousands of participants, and will help answer some more questions about the way the mind works. Maybe what we find out here will feature in the next series.'

The Human Mind starts on October 1, BBC1 at 9pm.

For further information visit the programme's website: