Hallucinating in the Dread Comfy Chair

15 Minutes of Sensory Deprivation Triggers Hallucinations

Study participants sat in a padded chair in the middle of an anechoic chamber, a room designed to dampen all sound and block out light. The researchers describe the set-up as a "room within a room," with thick outer walls and an inner chamber formed by metallic acoustic panels and a floating floor. In between the outer and inner walls are large fiberglass wedges. "This results in a very low noise environment in which the sound pressure due to outside levels is below the threshold of hearing," the researchers wrote.

Among the nine participants who scored high on the first survey, five reported having hallucinations of faces during the sensory deprivation, and six reported seeing other objects or shapes that weren't there. Four also noted an unusually heightened sense of smell, and two sensed an "evil presence" in the room. Almost all reported that they had "experienced something very special or important" during the experiment.

The researchers were not altogether surprised by such dramatic results from only 15 minutes of sensory deprivation. Although few scientists are studying sensory deprivation today, a small body of research from the 1950s and 1960s supports the idea that a lack of sensory input can lead to symptoms of psychosis. "Sensory deprivation is a naturalistic analogue to drugs like ketamine and cannabis for acting as a psychosis-inducing context," Mason wrote, "particularly for those prone to psychosis."

"Very few of the subjects devolved into apes and became one with the Godhead", the researchers did not say.

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5 Responses:

  1. edouardp says:

    I spent an hour or so in an anechoic chamber with the lights off once. It was great.

    Actually the other cool thing about the chamber was there was some test equipment left in there - some metal poles etc, and you could actually hear the audio reflections from them when you clicked your fingers - it was something you don't normally experience.

    As for the lack of devolution, or messages from aliens for that matter - well I blame the lack of psychotropics. Those researchers are obviously amateurs.

  2. artlung says:

    Mason Parrish:

    "I'm gonna show these to someone who can read them right, 'cause you're reading them wrong, that's all there is to it. Because no one is gonna tell me you de-differentiated your goddamn genetic structure for four goddamn hours and then reconstituted! I'm a professor of endocrinology at the Harvard Medical School. I'm an attending physician at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital! I'm a contributing editor to the American Journal of Endocrinology and a I am a fellow and vice-president of the Eastern Association of Endocrinologists and president of the Journal Club! And I'm not going to listen to any more of your kabbalistic, quantum, friggin' dumb limbo mumbo jumbo! I'm gonna show these to a radiologist!"

  3. They throw around the term "psychosis," and it's interesting to think about. Subjects' brains are still working exactly the way they're supposed to -- taking whatever sensory input they get and organizing it into sensory experiences based on what they expect to find in the world. It's just that they're in a situation where the only input is random noise within the system. I'd say the key feature of psychosis (specifically, hallucination) is that your brain is paying attention to that random / imaginary / idiosyncratic stuff even when there's competing information coming from your actual eyes and ears.

    That said, I wonder how this affects people who are psychotic, or who are prone to psychosis. Is it like practice?