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February 1958

Sensory Deprivation: Clinical Aspects

Author Affiliations


From the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Psychiatry Service, Boston City Hospital. Teaching Fellow in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Resident Psychiatrist, Massachusetts General Hospital (Dr. Leiderman); Teaching Fellow in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Clinical and Research Fellow in Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital (Dr. Mendelson); Assistant in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Assisting Physician in Psychiatry, Boston City Hospital (Dr. Wexler); Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Physician-in-Chief, Psychiatry Service, Boston City Hospital (Dr. Solomon).

AMA Arch Intern Med. 1958;101(2):389-396. doi:10.1001/archinte.1958.00260140221032

Introduction  Sensory deprivation, a new area of investigation in psychology and psychiatry,1 has long been familiar to students of certain types of literature. Autobiographical reports from explorers and shipwrecked sailors2-5 have indicated that gross mental abnormalities such as hallucinations, delusions, and disorientation can occur in persons who are isolated for any length of time. More recently,6 during the Korean conflict, the effect of sensory deprivation was observed in American prisoners of war who were placed in a highly controlled environment, impoverished of sensory stimuli.

Experimental Studies  The experimental study of sensory deprivation was begun by the psychologists Bexton, Heron, and Scott,7 in Hebb's Laboratory at McGill University in 1953. These investigators were concerned originally with the practical problem of "lapses in attention" which occur when a man must perform monotonous repetitive acts over a long period of time. In their study, using 22 college men, they

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