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July 1961

Sensory DeprivationThe Role of Social Isolation

Author Affiliations

From the Psychiatric Research Laboratory, Boston City Hospital and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.
Study aided by Grant Nonr-1866(29) from the Office of Naval Research, and a grant from the U.S. Public Health Service.
Intern, Massachusetts General Hospital (Dr. Davis); Teaching fellow in psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Resident in psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital (Dr. McCourt); Interne, Bellevue Hospital, New York (Dr. Courtney); Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Physician-in-Chief, Psychiatry Service, Boston City Hospital (Dr. Solomon).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1961;5(1):84-90. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1961.01710130086010

Volunteer subjects, exposed to an environment in which visual, auditory, and tactile sensations are reduced as much as possible, experience a variety of subjective disturbances ranging from anxiety and oppression to illusions and hallucinations. Investigators using different methods1-4 have reported wide variations in results. At the present time the fundamental determinants of the phenomena observed are still in question.

In previous reports from this laboratory,2,3 it has been suggested that 3 factors must be considered in studies of sensory deprivation: sensory deprivation per se, concomitant social isolation, and concomitant reduction in kinesthetic cues due to immobilization. We have directed experimentation to assess the role of each of these as separately as possible. A recent paper3 described work in which meaningless visual stimulation (a flashing light) was given to subjects in a previously standardized sensory deprivation situation; the findings sug

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