Stress, Portrait of a Killer (2008)

Intelligence comes at a price. The human species, despite its talent for solving problems, has managed over the millennia to turn one of its most basic survival mechanisms–the stress response–against itself. “Essentially,” says Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, “we’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick.”

In the 2008 National Geographic documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer (above), Sapolsky and fellow scientists explain the deadly consequences of prolonged stress. “If you’re a normal mammal,” Sapolsky says, “what stress is about is three minutes of screaming terror on the savannah, after which either it’s over with or you’re over with.” During those three minutes of terror the body responds to imminent danger by deploying stress hormones that stimulate the heart rate and blood pressure while inhibiting other functions, like digestion, growth and reproduction.

The problem is, human beings tend to secrete these hormones constantly in response to the pressures of everyday life. “If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons,” Sapolsky told Mark Shwartz in a 2007 interview for the Stanford News Service, “you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. If you’re chronically shutting down the digestive system, there’s a bunch of gastrointestinal disorders you’re more at risk for as well.”

Chronic stress has also been shown in scientific studies to diminish brain cells needed for memory and learning, and to adversely affect the way fat is distributed in the body. It has even been shown to measurably accelerate the aging process in chromosomes, a result that confirms our intuitive sense that people who live stressful lives grow old faster.

By studying baboon populations in East Africa, Sapolsky has found that individuals lower down in the social hierarchy suffer more stress, and consequently more stress-related health problems, than dominant individuals. The same trend in human populations was discovered in the British Whitehall Study. People with more control in work environments have lower stress, and better health, than subordinates.

Stephen Fry: Out There (2013)

In a new BBC Two series, Stephen Fry: Out There, Stephen travels across the globe to find out what it means to be gay. Visiting Uganda, America, Russia, Brazil and India, Stephen encounters some of the most notorious homophobes on the planet to try to understand the origin of their beliefs; he also meets victims of homophobic abuse.

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The first episode sees Stephen’s journey start close to home as he meets Sir Elton John and David Furnish to talk about their experiences coming out, their civil partnership and decision to raise a child together. He also meets a young Iranian man seeking refuge in the UK as he faces the death penalty in his home country for being gay.

Stephen then travels to Uganda – where the government is proposing a new law that would put gay people to death – and meets government ministers and religious leaders who support the bill. He sees the impact this proposed legislation is having on the lives of gay men and women, and has an emotional conversation with Stosh, a young gay woman who was a victim of ‘corrective rape’.

Lastly, Stephen travels to America to explore the workings of Reparative Therapy, a therapy that claims to change people from gay to straight, and visits actor Neil Patrick Harris to talk about his experience of being openly gay in Hollywood.

This episode sees Stephen visit Brazil, home to the largest gay pride celebration in the world and a place that has some of the best legislation on the planet for gay equality. But it has come at a price. All of the advances have brought about a violent backlash against gay people; on average, one gay person is murdered every 36 hours in Brazil. Stephen sees how this is impacting on the lives of gay men and women there and also confronts the politician leading the fight against gay rights.

Stephen also visits Russia, where gays are now worse off than they have been for a long time. Their rights are being constantly eroded by a conservative government, backed by the disapproval of the Russian Orthodox Church. Stephen then travels to India, where the old British laws that criminalised homosexuality have just been overturned. Modern India is now looking to Hindu traditions as it forges a more positive way forward for its gay citizens, including its once celebrated transgender community.

Porn On The Brain (2013)

Journalist and father Martin Daubney investigates how teenagers’ pornography habits have changed, and the effect today’s pornography is having on their brains.

As part of Channel 4’s Campaign for Real Sex, Porn on the Brain is an authored film by journalist Martin Daubney, who walked away from his position as editor of lad’s magazine Loaded after becoming a father.

His son is now four. Confused by alarming headlines and driven by the knowledge that his boy will soon reach the age at which most children first see porn (10 years), Martin wants to find some answers. Is porn really bad for kids? Where is the evidence?

While making the film, Martin discovers that porn has changed from what he remembers as a teenager. Today’s hardcore porn is extreme; it’s free and it’s only one click away, and Martin is shocked by what he sees.

Martin meets internationally-renowned neuroscientists, leading therapists and educators who are all concerned about the effects on vulnerable teenage brains today of free and easy access to hardcore pornography.

The film includes the shocking results of a specially-commissioned survey of teen porn habits, conducted for the documentary by the University of East London; and collaborates with the University of Cambridge to conduct the first study of its kind, scanning the brains of men who feel they are addicted to porn.