I just watched a documentary on the brain, sensory deprivation and isolation and I recommend you should watch it.

The programme documents a controversial experiment that involved 6 volunteers, who would experience 48 hours of total sensory deprivation. Three volunteers were placed in small individual rooms with a bed, table and complete and utter darkness. Three were in lit rooms, but wore goggles and for part of the time, padding around their arms to reduce sensation. They also wore headsets, that produced white noise, for the entire 48 hours.

Each person, prior to their confinement, underwent a series of tests on memory, recall and their ability to be influenced with prompts. The influence test had the examiner tell each volunteer a story and then prompt them with questions, such as “was Tom’s shirt black or white” when in actual fact it was red. Prior to their 48 hour confinement, the volunteer’s recall was such that they could confidently say “Tom’s shirt was red”.

Over the 48 hours of confinement and sensory deprivation, you watched these volunteers go through vast ranges of emotions and behaviour. From talking to themselves, their fear and pacing, all the way to their hallucinations. But they all lasted the distance.

What astounded me, was that after the 48 hours, their recall of a simple design was impaired, but most amazingly, when they were again read a story and prompted with misleading questions, the men were misled much easier and would have, for example, answered the question about Tom’s shirt, with “black” or “white”, whereas the women were still able to recall the events as they originally heard them.

What the scientists are saying, is that for the majority of men, and for some women – when in total isolation for some time, the brain actually starts to believe what is being said to them, rather than what they would have initially known to be true, and that is why some hostages and prisoners, will start to believe what their captors are telling them.

It also poses a question about leaving prisoners in isolation and solitary confinement for long periods of time.

This documentary interviewed a man who had spent 18 years in isolation for a crime he never committed. He now can’t gauge time, he can’t drive because it requires him to act upon various stimuli at the same time and he has been out of prison for some time now – so his brain function hasn’t returned at all.

So it begs the following questions:

  1. How useful is solitary confinement, if you were going to use it as a means to extract information? How accurate would that information be?
  2. Have we ever considered the long term effects of brain impairment, when used as a means of punishment?
  3. Do hostages, who have experienced long term sensory deprivation, and who then demonstrate support for their captors, continue to have the same beliefs once they are released. Does the brain recover?

Take a look at the documentary on this website: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/alone/

It will leave you thinking….