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Contribution of Non Deprivation Factors in the Production of Sensory Deprivation Effects

Contribution of Non Deprivation Factors in the Production of Sensory Deprivation Effects

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Research article written by MK-ULTRA psychiatrist Dr. Martin T. Orne from 1964 on sensory deprivation
Research article written by MK-ULTRA psychiatrist Dr. Martin T. Orne from 1964 on sensory deprivation

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Journal
oj
Abnormal
and
Social Psychology
1964,
Vol.
68, No. 1,
3-12
THE
CONTRIBUTION
OF
NONDEPRIVATION FACTORSIN THE PRODUCTION OF
SENSORY
DEPRIVATION
EFFECTS:
THE
PSYCHOLOGY
OF THE
"PANIC
BUTTON"
1
MARTIN
T.
ORNE
2
Harvard
Medical
School
KARL
E.
SCHEIBE
University
of
California,
Berkeley
From thepremise that both socialcuefactors,ordemand characteristics,and
sensory
deprivation operations combine
in
producing commonly observed
effects
of sensory deprivation, an experiment is reported which tests the hy-pothesis
that
sensory deprivation
effects
can beproducedbymanipulating
demand
characteristics while holding
the
effect
of the
physical environmentconstant. Experimental Ss were exposed topre-experimentalconditions whichwere designed to imply to them
that
sensory deprivation
effects
were expectedto emerge. The same physical conditions were structured for control Ss in
such
a way as to lead them to expect nothing to happen. Results show
that
the
groups were
significantly
different
on a
number
of
before
and
after
tests,as well as in general clinical appearance, and these results were interpretedas supporting the hypothesis. An interpretation is
offered
of the operation
of
demand characteristics
as a
factor interacting with treatment conditions.Ways
of
taking demand characteristics into account
in
sensory deprivation
research are
suggested.
It
seems reasonable
to
view
the
subject
in
a
psychological experiment
as a
social
as
well
as an
experimental animal.
To do so,
however,
makesnecessary
a
distinction
between
that
part
of the
subject's behavior which
is a
function
of the
experimental variable underanalysis
and
that part
which
is
tied
to his
perception of the experiment as a socialsituation.To support this view, Orne
(19S9b)
has
shown
that
subjects
in
hypnosis experimentsbehave
in a way
that
is
largely congruent
with
their preconceptions of hypnosis. Orne
(19S9a;
1962),
in
developing
the
concept
of
"demand
characteristics,"
has also sug-gested
that
the
results
of
many psychologicalexperiments
are
liable
to be
biased
by
thosecues, both implicit
and
explicit,
that
com-
1
This study
was
supported
in
part
by
Contract
AF49(638)-728
from the Air
Force
Office
of
Scientific
Research
and in part by Public Health ResearchGrant M-3369, National Institute of Mental Health,United States Public Health Service.
2
Wewould liketothank Ronald Shorfor his
help in the
analysis
of the
data
and in the exposi-
tion
of our findings. We are
grateful
also
to
DonaldN. O'Connell, Emily C. Orne, and M. Brewster
Smith for
their many valuable
suggestions
and
comments.
municateto thesubject whatisexpectedofhim
in the
experimental situation.The
results
of any experiment involvinghuman
subjects are
seen
to
include
at
least
two distinct components.
The first,
which
may be
called
the
true experimental
effect,
is
entirely
contingent upon
the
antecedence
of
the independent variable. The second is
induced
by the
social cues
that
attend
the
experimental situation
and is
unrelated
to the
independent variable. An analogy may aptlybe drawn
to the
distinction between
"real"
and
"placebo"
effects
inpharmacologicalre-search, whereit is firstnecessarytodiscernthe extent and direction of the placebocomponent
before
ameaningful conclusioncan be drawn about the real
effect.
Research findings on sensory deprivationare likely to be subject to the kind of biashere described. Little attempt
has
been madeto
separate
those aspects of the reactions tosensory deprivation actually due to the dimi-nution
of
sensory input
from
those
due tothe
matrix
of
social cues surrounding
theexperimental
situation,
3
3
One notable exception is the work of Jackson(1960; Jackson
&
Kelly, 1962)
who
explored
the
role
of
"indirect suggestion"
in the
production
of
sensory
deprivation
effects.
 
MARTIN
T.
ORNE
AND
KARL
E.
SCHEIBE
Since
the first
studies
at
McGill University
in
1951,
there have been many attempts todelineate
and
account
for the
effects
of
pro-
longed
sensory deprivation. Experimentaltechniques have been devised to reduce
insofar
as
possible
all
forms
of
externalstimulation.
The
McGill research employed
a
sound-damped cubicle: the subject rests on
a
soft
bed, wearing translucent goggles
over
hiseyesandcardboard gauntlets overhis
forearms
and
hands (Bexton, Heron,
&
Scott,
19
54).
Another technique involves placingnormal subjects in
tank-type
respirators, so
that
movement
is
restricted
and
externalsources
of
stimulation
are
rendered fairlyhomogeneous
(Leiderman,Mendelson,Wexler,
&
Solomon,
1958).
A
third technique consists
of
prolonged
total
immersion
in a
tank
of
wateratbody temperature, withthesubjectusing
a
face
mask
for
breathing (Lilly,
1956).
With
a
very
few
exceptions (Vernon
& Mc-Gill,
1957; Zubek,
Sansom,
&
Prysiazniuk,1960) these procedures have produced sig-
nificant
changes
in
behavior, usually
in the
form
of a
decrement
in
psychological
ef-
ficiency.
Bexton et
al.
(1954) report
a
general
cogni-
tive deterioration under the McGill condi-tions. Deprivation subjects showed decre-ments
on a
number
of
pre-
and
postisolationcognitive
tasks.
Subjects reported an intense-ness
of
visual imagery,
an
inability
to
con-centrate,andspatialandtemporal
disorienta-tion.
Scott, Bexton, Heron, and Doane
(1959)
and Doane, Mahatoo, Heron, and Scott
(1959)
provide
further
evidence
on
several
more
testing instruments, including some
of
the
perceptual-motor variety.
The findings
of
Vernon, McGill,
Gulick, and
Candland
(1961)
have been less striking,
but the
general tenor
of
their conclusions
is thesame.
Likewise, studies
by
Zubek
et al.
(1960)and Zubek,
Pushkar,
Sansom, and
Cowing
(1961)
show
an
impairment
of
mental
func-
tioning
along
the
lines
noted
above.
A
remark
by
Hebb
(1958) perhaps best epitomizes
the
findings
of
these studies: "Without physical
pain,
without drugs,thepersonalitycan bebadly
deformed
simply
by
modifying
the
perceptual environment
[p.
110]."
An
alternative
view of
these data would
be
that
at
least
in
part
the
dramatic
effects
could be a
function
of the
demand character-
istics of the
experimental situation.
Thus,
the
cues in the experimental procedure itself
would
communicate to the subject the be-
havior
expected
of
him.
There
is
evidence
in an
experiment
by
Kandel, Myers,andMurphy (1958)
that
preparing
asubjectforprobable hallucina-tions significantly
affects
the frequency of
hallucinations.
This
preparation
was
accom-plished by
verbal
instructions. However, suchdevices as
"panic buttons"
in experiments
(Vernon
et
al.,
1961; Zubek et
al.,
1961)
are in a
sense eloquent
"instructions."
Theuseof
such
adevice
increases
thesubject's
expectation
that
something intolerable
may
occur, and, with it, the likelihood of a badexperience.Indeed, it is possible to
refer
to manypotential role cues
of
greater
or
lesser
subtlety.
In an
experiment
by
Freedman,
Grunebaum,
and Greenblatt (1961), subjectswere required to sign a
forbidding
release
form
prior
to
participation. Psychiatricscreenings have been commonly used to singleout individuals who might be harmed byanexperiment,andphysical examinationshave been given
to
make sure
of the
subject'sability to withstand experimental stress. Even
the
existence
of
such experimental accouter-ments as observation windows and micro-phones have a potential cue value. As one
of
our own
subjects remarked,
"If you
didn'texpect to see or hear something unusual, why
were
you
looking
and
listening?"
It
should
be
made clear
that
the
experi-
ment
to be described was
not
designed to
test
any
hypothesis about
the
nature
of
sensory
deprivation.
Rather it was aimed at callingattention to a set of variables which mustbe considered in evaluating
that
phenomenon.
The
postulate
that
certain cues increase
the
likelihood
of
occurrence
of a
predicted
effect
is
easily converted into
an
empirical question:
If
the
cues
attending
the
typical sensory
deprivation
experiment
are
retained
while no
sensory
deprivation takes place,
is it stillpossible
to
produce
effects
similar
to
those
produced in
such
an
experiment?
 
METHODOLOGY
IN
DEPRIVATIONSTUDIES
METHOD
Subjects
Subjects were recruited for "a psychological experi-ment
in
Meaning Deprivation" through
the
place-
ment services of colleges and universities in theBoston
area.
Each
subject
was paid $2 an hour plustransportation costs. In
order
to correspond moreclosely withthepracticeinmost previous sensorydeprivation experiments, only male college studentsranging
in age
from
18 to
25
were used. Subjectswere excluded who had previously participated insensory deprivation experiments or who were too
familiar
with sensory deprivation experiment
results.
4
Twenty
subjects
in all
took
part;
each
was
assignedalternately
to the
experimental
and
control
groups,
with 10 subjects comprising each group.
Procedure
for
Experimental Group
All
subjectswhocalledto
volunteer
were told
that
the
experimental session would last
an
indefiniteperiod
of
time,
and
that
in
order
for the
subject
to
participate,
it
would
be
necessary
for him to
reserve
an entire day or entire evening. He wasalso told
that
the
experiment
was to be
performed
at a
psychiatric hospital.
When
the subject arrived there he was greeted by
the
experimenter, dressed
in a
white medical coat.Prior
to
giving instructions,
the
experimenter askedthe subject
briefly
about his medical history, askedhim whether he had a history of dizziness, orfainting spells, and so on. An aura of greatseriousness and importance was maintained through-out
this
introductory period. As a prop to
reinforce
thesubject's notion
that
great cautionwasnecessary
in the experiment, a
tray
of
drugs
and
medical
instruments, labeled "Emergency
Tray"
was in
full
view. No direct
reference
was ever made to this trayunless
the
subject asked,
and
then
he was
told
that
this was one of the precautionary measures taken
for
the experiment, and that he had nothing to
worry
about.
At the conclusion of the introductory remarks,
the
following
set of
instructions,
a
composite
of the
instructions used in other sensory deprivation ex-periments, was read to the
subject:
The
experiment
for
which
you
have
volunteered
has as its object the determination of the psy-chological consequences
of a
special kind
of
deprivation procedure.
There
arethree partsto the
experiment:
TestingPeriod
I, the
Experimental Deprivation Con-
dition, and
Testing
Period
II. You
will receivespecial instructions in the testing periods.During the deprivation period,
which
will last
4
Four
subjects were
thus eliminated.
One
further
subject was
dropped because
he was not
only unable
to
perform
two of thepretests—one
involving
a
reversible figure and the other a mirror tracing
task
—but
had
great
difficulty
even
in
understanding
the
instructions.anundisclosed lengthoftime,youwill havean
optional
task
involving
adding
numbers,
the
full
instructions
for
which will
be
explained once
we
enter
the
chamber.Whileyou are in thechamber,youwillbeunder constant observation. Also, there will be amicrophone through which anythingyoumightsay
will
be
recorded.
It is
important
that
you
report
your experiences
freely
and completely. You are
not
expected
to
talk
a
great deal,
but you
shouldreportanyvisual imagery, fantasies, specialorunusual feelings,
difficulties
inconcentration, hal-
lucinations,
feelings
of
disorientation,
or the
like.Such experiences are not unusual under the con-ditions
to
which
you are to be
subjected.If at any time you
feel
very discomforted, you
may
obtain
release immediately
by
pressing
the
button which
I
will show
you
once
we
enter
the
chamber
["by
knocking
on the
window,"
for
control
subjects]. Do not
hesitate
to use
this
button if the situation becomes
difficult
[thissentence deleted for control
subjects].
However,try to stick it out if you can.Should you
feel
upset, or should anything
untoward develop,
a physician is immediately at
hand
[this
sentence deleted for control
subjects].
Remember,
I
should like
you to pay
special
at-
tention
to any
special visual
or
other sensations,or feelings of disorientation, and to report theseexperiencesasthey happen.
Do
you
have
any questions?
At the conclusion of the instructions, questionswere answeredif at allpossiblebyreferringtoportionsof thewritten instructions.Thesubjectwas
then
asked
to
sign
a
release
form
that
was
almostidentical
in
detail
with
the one
used
by
Freedman
et
al.
(1961).
It was
worded
so as to
relieve
the
Massachusetts Mental Health Center
and all
affiliated
organizationsandpersonnel
from
legal responsibility
for
consequences
of the
experiment.
All
experimentalsubjects signed the
form,
although some were a
little
reluctant
to do so.Next, the
subjects' blood pressure
and
pulse count
were
recorded. These measures were also taken for
control
subjects,
who
were told, however,
that
it
was being done only because it was part of the
procedure for
experimental subjects.
After
this, sub-jects were giventhepretest batteryto bedescribedbelow. At the conclusion of the battery they wereallowed to go to the bathroom,
after
which theywere accompanied by the experimenter to the
"isolation
chamber."The isolation chamber was a quiet room
6X7X8
feet
in
dimension.
It was
furnished
simply
with
a
large oak desk and two
comfortable
chairs. Beigedrapes covered
a
small, shaded window above
the
desk,
but the
room
was
amply lighted
by a
circular fluorescent fixture. One wall was fitted with
a 2 X 4foot
observationwindow,
the
function
of
which
was
explained
to the
subject
upon
entering.
On
the
desk were
a
number
of
objects:
a
thermos
of
ice water, a glass, and a
sandwich;
a microphone;
a
stack
of
approximately
2,000
sheets
of
paper con-

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