Brainwashed FAQ

Q: Are there any famous claims of brainwashing?

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A: In 1972, kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst claimed at her trial that she was brainwashed into committing crimes alongside her abductors. And in 1968 Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, who claimed he was brainwashed into killing Kennedy.

Q: What was the goal of the Brainwashed episode of Curiosity?

A: The objective was to take mentally healthy, law-abiding citizens and program them to shoot and kill complete strangers using brainwashing.

Q: Who conducted the Curiosity brainwashing experiment?

A: Overseeing the experiment were: Dr. Cynthia Meyersburg, who has conducted multiple studies on false memory implantation at Harvard University; Dr. Mark Stokes, who studies the neuro-pathways of the decision making processes at Oxford University in England; and Dr. Jeff Kieliszewski, who works in “Super-Max” security prisons, and hospitals for the criminally insane.

Q: Who performed the actual hypnosis during the Curiosity brainwashing experiment?

A: The experts called on certified hypnotherapist Tom Silver to perform the hypnosis for the experiment. Silver has treated thousands of patients in more than 20 countries. He’s been called in by law enforcement to conduct hypnotic interrogations, and he was recruited by the Taiwanese Secret Service to help uncover an international arms trading scandal -- a story only recently declassified.

Q: How many people applied to join the Curiosity brainwashing study as participants?

A: 185 people applied for the study.

Q: What's the first step in hypnosis?

A: The first step is to determine whether or not a subject is susceptible to hypnosis. Not everyone is.

Q: How did Curiosity's hypnotist approach candidates for the experiment?

A: Hypnotist Tom Silver hypnotized the subjects in groups of 10 at a time and then gave them a series of commands designed to test the depth of their hypnotic state.

Q: During Curiosity's brainwashing experiment, how long did it take most subjects to become hypnotized?

A: After five minutes, most subjects entered a hypnotic trance.

Q: How many subjects were found to be suitable for Curiosity's brainwashing experiment.

A: The team found that 16 of the original 185 applicants were susceptible to hypnosis. Of those 16, 11 passed the rigorous follow-up psychological evaluation.

Q: Which challenge did the Curiosity brainwashing subjects face first?

A: The subjects were tested to see how many would abandon social norms under hypnosis.

Q: How many Curiosity brainwashing subjects were able to abandon social norms under hypnosis?

A: Four participants in the experiment were able to abandon social norms while under hypnosis. These four "assassins" were able to move on to the next challenge.

Q: What was the first challenge faced by the remaining four Curiosity brainwashing experiment subjects?

A: The subjects were hypnotized and then submerged in an ice bath, but only after being instructed NOT to feel the cold of the water.

Q: How cold was the water used in the ice bath test during the Curiosity brainwashing experiment?

A: The water in which the test subjects were submerged was confirmed by a thermal imaging camera to be 35 degrees F (1.7 C).

Q: Were precautions taken to ensure the safety of the Curiosity brainwashing test subjects during the ice bath experiment?

A: The experiment team attached monitors to each person to ensure such critical things as their heart rate could be observed. An EMT was also on hand to ensure the participants' safety.

Q: Did any of the remaining four Curiosity brainwashing test subjects pass the ice bath test?

A: All but one of the subjects failed the test. None of the participants who failed lasted more than 18 seconds in the near-freezing water. The remaining subject lasted an astonishing 2 minutes. Had all four subjects failed, the experiment would have been over.

Q: Who was the final Curiosity brainwashing test subject still in the running to be hypnotized into being an assassin?

A: A man named Ivan, a 36-year-old corrections officer, was the last subject standing.

Q: How did the Curiosity brainwashing team go about staging an assassination for Ivan to attempt?

A: Outside the hotel, the team staged a velvet line at a service entrance. "Paparazzi" were staged along the velvet line, waiting for a "foreign dignitary" to emerge from the entrance. Large SUVs awaited the dignitary.

Q: What kind of weapon was Ivan given?

A: The team used an airsoft prop gun that fires no bullets but has the blast and recoil action of a real firearm. Everything about it would suggest to Ivan that it was a real, deadly weapon.

Q: How was Ivan programmed for the killing without tipping him off to what was about to happen?

A: Ivan was told he was not selected to continue in the program but that the producers wanted to see him for an exit interview. When he showed up for the interview, that gave Tom the hypnotist his chance.

Q: How did Tom's hypnotizing of Ivan proceed?

A: Tom induced a trance in Ivan and then gave him his instructions to assassinate the foreign dignitary as he is leaving the hotel. Tom also left Ivan with a key piece of information: A "trigger" signal that would cause Ivan to act out his commands at a later time. Later, Ivan, who thought he was going home after the exit interview, received the signal from a production staffer in the hotel lobby.

Q: Did Ivan carry out his assassination?

A: Yes. The experiment was a success, and Ivan carried out his instructions: removing the gun from a red backpack, waiting near the velvet rope line and "assassinating" his target.

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