An exciting new BBC series puts human behaviour under the microscope
A HOUSE. People interacting together. Everything caught on camera where viewers catch all the juicy details.
Sounds like popular reality TV competition Big Brother? Even better. In the new BBC Earth production Meet The Humans, the voyeurism is done with a scientific purpose.
All in the service of uncovering a better understanding of human behaviour, a sprawling countryside manor replaces a clinical testing room and the lab rats are substituted with human volunteers, in a show shot with the precision of a natural history documentary, topped off with the drama of a sitcom.
When met during the BBC Worldwide Showcase 2017 event in Liverpool, UK, TV presenter Dr Michael Mosley was enthusiastic about the new five-episode show.
“Me and my good friend, Michael Gunton (executive producer at the BBC Studios Natural History Unit), wanted to do a human psychology series to observe humans and shot almost like how you’d shoot animals in the wild,” says the 60-year-old Brit, who is also a TV journalist, producer and New York Times bestselling author.
Having worked for the BBC since 1985, Mosley is best known as a Bafta and Emmy-nominated presenter of TV programmes on biology and medicine.
His more recent shows include Trust Me I'm a Doctor, Countdown To Life: The Extraordinary Making Of You and E-Cigarettes: Miracle Or Menace?
OBSERVE, COMMENT, INTERFERE
Mosley explains that in Meet The Humans, the venue, rigged with surveillance cameras and various observational devices, sees a group of unwitting test subjects, all invited to take part in a range of group activities.
“We pursue a different theme in each episode like competition, desire, fear, memory and the family unit,” he says of the hour-long episodes that are designed to be very accessible to viewers.
To spice things up, actors and stooges are thrown into the mix to manipulate the action – and surprise the participants.
From inside a secret observational room, Mosley and a team of experts analyse their every move.
“It’s me and two experts who differ from week to week. And they’re experts in a whole range of fields, from an anthropologist, neuroscientist and psychologist to a sports scientist and even a dating expert.
“We observe, comment and also interfere with them to some extent,” he says cheekily.
The latest scientific studies, facial trackers and biomechanical software are used to uncover the evolutionary factors and instincts that drive ordinary human behaviour.
“Some are wired up so we can measure their heart rates and skin conductivity to determine things like their stress levels.
“With all the feeds and data channelled to this room we sit there for about 14 hours a day over the weekend.
“You’d think that it’d be boring but it’s actually endlessly fascinating and surprising,” says the bespectacled personality with a smile.
Mosley, who studied medicine and has a background in psychiatry, adds that the observers would also make predictions based on what they see and then deconstruct the results of the various behavioural patterns.
“It’s really gripping because people do things that you’d absolutely never expect.
“Sometimes my predictions are uncannily right but often times they are completely wrong as well, which is great, since it shows that humans are pretty unpredictable,” says Mosley.
He adds that it’s perfectly natural since we’re not rational creatures anyway.
According to Mosley, there was some sneaky business during the episode on competition.
“But we also saw some real examples of altruism where people helped others, when it clearly wasn’t in their interest to do so,” he says.
It was also engaging to see how the volunteers behaved when they thought that no one was watching.
“Some of the most revealing conversations took place at the designated smoking area by the front door, away from the cameras.
“They were often trying to undermine the things that we were trying to do, except they didn’t realise that we could still hear them on the microphones!
“Our anthropology expert commented that this was something that happens in the business world too, where smokers would gather, then plot,” says Mosley.
In the school reunion episode, which explored memory, they brought back a group of middle-aged people who hadn’t seen each other since they were 16.
Mosley says: “If you brought a group of people back to a time of their youth, you could actually improve their health markers.”
“That’s what we found: Blood pressure and blood-sugar levels improved,” he adds.
And what about the lab rats themselves? Apparently, the volunteers get a pleasant jolt at the end of each episode when Mosley introduces himself and the two other experts to them by going: “Surprise!”
“Everyone has a good time. They understand that we’ve been messing with them for a purpose, it’s not just a random exploitative show,” he says of the groups of people in their twenties to late forties that are brought in for the series of activities and experiments.
With the first season completed Mosley is open to the possibility of doing more episodes in the future.
“As far as we know, nobody’s made anything quite like this before, so we’ll see how the five episodes are received first. But I really had so much fun doing them and there are lots of other kinds of human behaviour to explore,” he says.
“I’d like to look at greed, maybe invite people over for a gourmet weekend, observe strategies in bringing up kids for one on parenting and take a look at obedience, by persuading people to do things that you’d never expect them to do, just to name a few.”
Meet The Humans is part of the BBC’s Being Human season, which is an exploration of the human race.
A slew of shows over an 18 month period will examine what it means to be human, how we might improve the way we live and what the future could hold for civilisation.
Other titles in June are The Brain With David Eagleman, The Science Of Laughter and Is Your Brain Male Or Female? (watch them on the BBC Player).
In August, catch Joel Dommett and Nish Kumar in Tribal Bootcamp as they go on an adventure of a lifetime to immerse themselves in the lives of the strongest, fittest and toughest people in the world.
Visit www.bbcasia.com/channels/earth for details.
Meet The Humans premieres today at 10.45pm on BBC Earth (HyppTV Channel 501). Watch it also via the BBC Player app or online at www.bbcplayer.com