My latest film for The Ri Channel takes a look at the placebo effect and it’s central paradox – if we have the ability to cure our symptoms of illness when taking a placebo- why can’t we just do this all the time?
The film looks at the ‘WHY’ rather than the ‘HOW’ of the placebo effect and features Professor Nicholas Humphrey – an evolutionary psychologist who has contributed a significant amount of work to our understanding of consciousness and the evolutionary context of the placebo effect.
I was aware of how the body is able to reduce pain through the use of it’s own internal painkillers (the endogenous opiates) – but I’d never really considered the evolutionary context of the placebo effect. WHY can’t we just deploy it whenever we want, why is it that a sugar pill can somehow grant us permission to do this and what information are we acting upon when we take placebo medications.
The film was created as part of a YouTube Super Collaboration (possibly the first in its kind) – which brought together 10 Science YouTube Channels each exploring 10 unanswered questions in science – the project was coordinated by the Channel AllTime10s – a monumental effort cajoling all ten channels into meeting the same deadline! You can view the AllTime10s video below, which links to all the videos in the collaboration:
Video creators include VSauce, Veritasium, Minute Physics and ASAPscience.
AllTime10s asked us to produce a video on the placebo effect and we had a very tight deadline for this film (about a month to conceive and produce!) – after a bit of mild panic and some research we were delighted to have Professor Humphrey on board – he was incredibly helpful in informing this project.
Due to limited time we decided to shoot this in the format of an interview and cut the audio together to present a logical argument. I think the most difficult aspect in producing this film was in conveying the information succinctly, in the right order and deciding what to leave out. Obviously there was a lot of nuance and detail that we simply couldn’t afford to go into – so there was a lot of careful consideration involved in presenting these arguments concisely to a YouTube audience. As it often goes with the editing process – there were some painful moments having to excise sections from the film.
Professor Humphrey had a number of thought experiments to help illustrate his arguments and I was keen to use these within the film, as they help to add real-world context from which to grasp these ideas. One of these was an anecdote of a schoolboy falling over in the playground and experiencing pain – with this section I was particularly conscious that we needed some sort of visual aid to augment the story.
At first I started with simple static slides created in Key Note, but found myself longing for something more dynamic. These slides then became placeholders and I later revamped them in Motion. This was true for the rest of the film as well, we were dealing with a lot of talking-head footage and I wanted to add in some motion graphics to help break this up and provide moments of pause between sections. I must say I’m completely new to using Motion and animation – so they are simplistic, but it was a great way of teaching myself how to do these things.
The style of these animations was very much guided by the central anecdote in the film (the schoolboy story) and this is why we see a chalkboard, wobbly text (it’s not Comic Sans!), simplistic stick men (I’m also a bit crap at graphics) and playful music.
I also really like the opening titles – although I’ll admit they’re not entirely keeping with the rest of the film’s style.
The film was shot with a Panasonic AF101, Nikon D7100 and edited on FCPX.
More on the placebo paradox:
- The evolutionary psychology of healing: a human success story (Current Biology)
- Placebo: Cracking the Code (YouTube)
- Placebos and Evolution: A Theory
- Nicholas Humphrey – Understanding the Placebo Effect (YouTube)