The Brain — A Secret History

The Brain — A Secret History is a series about how various theories and experiments on the human mind over decades have led to profound insights into how the human brain works, but also have involved great cruelty and pose terrible ethical dilemmas. Historical experiments such as severe maternal deprivation, brainwashing and other experiments in mind control such as MKULTRA are covered, along with physical interventions such as the history of electric shock ‘treatment’, behaviour modification, experimental psychology, and the Milgram experiment.


Part one explores the brutal history of experimental psychology, starting at the sinister ways science has been used to try to control human minds and how the pursuit of mind control has led to truly horrific experiments, leaving many casualties in its wake. Extraordinary archive footage captures what happened — scientists systematically attempt to change the behaviour of children, law abiding citizens give fatal electric shocks in the Milgram Experiment, and a gay man has electrodes implanted inside his head in an attempt to turn his sexuality.

Part two continues by investigating how scientists have struggled to understand the most ‘irrational’ and deeply complex part of our minds — emotions. This episode meets both participants and scientists of some key historical experiments, many of which were captured on film: an eight-month-old boy is taught to fear random objects, baby monkeys are given mothers made from wire and cloth, and an adult is deliberately violent before a group of toddlers.

The final part concludes by looking at how experiments on abnormal brains may have revealed the workings of the normal brain. This episode meets people who have suffered strokes, comas, amnesia and one from a rare condition—alien hand syndrome—to reveal insights into perhaps how the mind really works.