Genre: Popular Science, Edutainment
The maverick series Brainiac: Science abuse originally ran on Sky One between 2003 and 2008. This clip (2.5 mins) within Box of Broadcasts is taken from a 2014 repeat shown on Challenge.
Not famed for the rigour of their research methodology, it might seem an odd choice to use a clip from this series for University-level teaching. It is in fact the poor design of the chosen experiment that proves useful (see below).
In the clip, the Brainiacs are investigating the question “Can you Smell Fear?” To do so they get an unfortunate female team member to sniff the armpits of three men – one has been relaxing, one has been running and the third (alleged to have a fear of heights) has been on a high crane platform.
Educational use of this clip: I have used this clip in a first year module looking at experimental design. The students are told before watching the video to keep an eye out for features of the experiment that have been conducted well and those that are less than ideal. This then leads into reflection on how they might investigate the same question (can you smell fear?) in a better way. Finally we talk through the approach that was used in a paper examining the same issue, from the journal PLoS ONE, published in 2009. This exercise has been written up in the Journal of Biological Education.
- Another version of this Brainiac experiment is available on YouTube (note that this is rather longer than the clip on Box of Broadcasts as a “filler” section has been omitted from the latter)
- The slides from the teaching session are available on Slideshare
- The better scientific approach described in PLoS ONE is Induction of Empathy by the Smell of Anxiety by Prehn-Kristensen et al.
- My paper Introduction to experimental design: can you smell fear? (contact me if you have difficulty accessing this article)