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Brainwashed to kill? 'Curiosity' tests to see if it's really possible

Discovery Channel

Can an individual be brainwashed to commit murder? "Curiosity: Brainwashed" attempts to answer that question.

In Richard Condon's 1959 thriller the "Manchurian Candidate," a man is brainwashed into becoming an unwitting but deadly sleeper agent. The novel and the films it inspired have long intrigued those who followed the plot, leaving them wondering if it's really possible to turn someone into an assassin against their natural, not-so-lethal will.

"Brainwashed," the next episode of Discovery's "Curiosity" series, puts that premise to the test.

See what some of the show's experts have to say about the idea of turning a normal person into killer in this exclusive sneak peek.

"Science has only begun to understand how the brain works," said experimental psychopathologist Cynthia Meyerburg, who oversaw the study. "And one of the things we don't yet understand is whether it's possible to control someone else's mind."

In fact many believe there's no way to program a person to act out violently.

"What we're trying to do here is strip away someone's sense of free will and see if they can carry out extreme acts," Oxford University neuroscientist Mark Stokes explained. "Can it be done? I'm not so sure that it can."

In order to find out, they worked with a group of test subjects who consented to take part in a hypnosis study for TV but weren't told that ultimate objective, as described in the clip, is "to take a mentally healthy, law-abiding individual and program them to shoot and kill a complete stranger."

While it seems certain that no "complete strangers" were harmed in the making of the episode, the true outcome of the experiment remains a mystery until it airs.

Catch "Curiosity: Brainwashed" Sunday night at 9 p.m. on Discovery Channel.

Do you think an otherwise law-abiding person can be turned into a killer? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.


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