Sensory deprivation and its positive effect on perception
Type of Spiritual Experience
Dr Jack Vernon undertook a series of controlled experiments in a specially made ‘dark room’. A large soft king sized bed was provided to minimise the sensation of touch. Clearly this was one sense not eliminated, but as this sensation did not change throughout the experiment as most subjects tended to lie fairly still, there was in a sense no stimulus, as generally our nerves measure change of stimulus, rather than the continual monitoring of a uniform stimulus.
The dark room was completely sound proofed and completely dark, however, the research subjects knew that there was a toilet they could go to in the room. Taste sensation was not eliminated as the subjects were provided with a cold box with food [mostly sandwiches and soup]. There was also a ‘panic button’ provided, so that if they felt they could endure no more they could ask to be removed, although the door was not locked and in fact they could walk out at any time. The research subjects were nearly all male and post graduate students at the university [Princeton].
“Our subjects were volunteers who could leave the chamber at will. They underwent no physical hardships, the period of confinement was short and the experience not fear arousing”
In effect, the experiments measured benign partial sensory deprivation.
A description of the experience
Inside the Black Room – Dr Jack Vernon
This test was completed at the end of the SD period. Each subject was shown a series of line drawings, one at a time for only a very short time [1/100th of a second]. After each presentation the subject was given 30 seconds to reproduce as accurately as possible what he had seen. The test was administered in the laboratory area outside the confinement cubicle and was given only at the end of the confinement period. The subjects had no advance knowledge of the test.
The designs were arranged in a series that had a special ordering of circles. At first the circles were closed, then they had a slight gap that became systematically larger as the series continued. All the other figures had no gaps; thus there was the suggestion that all of the figures had no gaps. This suggestion should have the effect of causing the gaps in the circles to be detected only after the gap had become quite large.
We predicted that the S.D. subject would be more influenced by the suggestion and thus would not detect as small a gap in the circles as would a non-confined group of subjects. As it turned out, the S.D. subjects detected the gap a little better than did the comparison subjects.
However, the S.D. group did reveal a strong increase in suggestibility that we did not expect. After they detected the gaps in the circles, they started drawing gaps in the other figures as well. There was a total of 110 figures presented, of which 25 were the circles.
Of the remaining figures the S.D. group saw 23, on the average, as having gaps, while the non-confined group saw none. We had instructed both groups to draw as accurately as possible what they saw; apparently the S.D. group responded more nearly to our instructions, for we found that some of the figures without gaps had slight imperfections in them, owing to the slide-mounting process.
The S.D. subjects picked up these imperfections, while the other group did not.
The source of the experienceScientist other
Concepts, symbols and science items
Perceptions - accessing perceptions
Perceptions - what has perceptions
Perceptions and memory