Could the power of fake pills be used to treat some of our most common medical complaints? To find out, Dr Michael Mosley embarks on Britain's largest ever trial to investigate the placebo effect. He is heading to Blackpool to gather 117 people suffering from backache - one of the leading types of chronic pain - before trying to treat them with nothing but fake pills and the power of the mind. Working with experts from the University of Oxford, Michael discovers that the placebo effect is more than just a medical curiosity. The brain is actually capable of producing its own drugs, and these can be more powerful than prescription painkillers. Michael's volunteers come from all walks of life, but they have all suffered with bad backs for years and feel their conventional medication isn't up to the job. They include Stacey, who is struggling to keep up with her two energetic daughters, wheelchair user Jim, who longs to be able to get back on a boat, and poker player Moyra, who is looking for a painkiller which doesn't affect her performance. They think they are taking part in the trial of a powerful new painkiller, but their blue and white capsules actually contain nothing but ground-up rice. Can this fake treatment make a real difference? And how will the volunteers react when Michael reveals the truth? Michael also finds out about some remarkable placebo experiments from around the world, including a woman in Oxfordshire who experienced a near-miraculous recovery after undergoing fake surgery to fix her chronic shoulder pain. Plus a team in Lancashire who want to see if the placebo effect can cure a broken heart. And Michael discovers a team in Germany working on a placebo that works even if you know you are taking it, which might improve the lives of transplant patients. Michael also tests this out on himself - attempting to train his own body to respond to a fake treatment - a foul-tasting green drink - as if he were taking actual drugs.
What is memory? How do our memories change from childhood to adulthood? How we can build up greater brain reserves to power our mind into old age? Brain epigenetics, how the expression of our DNA can be changed by our experiences, is an intriguing new area of science with huge health implications.
How can a lie become true? In this episode, Dr. Aaron Blaisdell and I create a game show that is actually a giant “human Skinner Box” to observe the formation of superstitious beliefs. And Dr. Samuel Veissière helps me design and perform a placebo reverse exorcism, harnessing the power of belief in both science and religion to convince normal people that a spirit has possessed their bodies.
Memory is the glue that binds our mental lives. Without it, we’d be prisoners of the present, unable to use the lessons of the past to change our future. From our first kiss to where we put our keys, memory represents who we are and how we learn and navigate the world. But how does it work? Neuroscientists using cutting-edge techniques are exploring the precise molecular mechanisms of memory. By studying a range of individuals ranging—from an 11-year-old whiz-kid who remembers every detail of his life to a woman who had memories implanted—scientists have uncovered a provocative idea. For much of human history, memory has been seen as a tape recorder that faithfully registers information and replays intact. But now, researchers are discovering that memory is far more malleable, always being written and rewritten, not just by us but by others. We are discovering the precise mechanisms that can explain and even control our memories. The question is—are we ready?