Observations placeholder

Sensory deprivation and sleep as a cure for smoking

Identifier

011884

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

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.  In effect, the experiments measured benign partial sensory deprivation.

The research subjects were nearly all male and post graduate students at the university [Princeton].

Cigarrettes provide not just smoke which acts as a stimulant because it is a threat, but nicotine which is a relaxant.  Sensory deprivation in these circumstances [benign] provides relaxation, as such for the time in the chamber, there was relaxation enough not to need the cigarettes.

 

A description of the experience

Inside the Black Room – Dr Jack Vernon

Soon after entering the confinement cell most subjects went to sleep and slept almost uninterruptedly for ten to twenty-four hours. These are gross estimates, for there was nothing by which the subjects could determine elapsed time, and if anything they probably underestimated sleeping time.  We know for certain that one subject slept for nineteen hours but insisted that he had had a nap of less than one hour. According to the monitoring microphone, which was capable of picking up the deep breathing of sleep, it seems more likely that most subjects slept almost all of the first twenty-four hours.

We felt that so much sleeping in the first day wasted the effects of confinement, so we started placing subjects in S.D. early in morning.  We reasoned that after a night's sleep our confined subject would be unable to dissipate the effects of S.D. by sleeping.  Such was not the case. As far as we could determine they went to sleep just as quickly and slept just as long as the previous subjects. We then started entering the subjects at midmorning, midday, and mid-afternoon. As it turned out, it made no difference when during the day and, presumably, during the night we started the confinement; the initial sleep period was always about the same……………

Fully three quarters of our subjects were smokers, and they were not allowed to smoke during S.D. When they were told of this prohibition, they predicted that non-smoking would be the hardest aspect of the confinement. But to a man it turned out to be the easiest part of S.D. They all reported that they seldom thought about smoking and that when they did it was as a mere memory and not the demanding insistence of an old habit. Some of these people were confined for as long as ninety-six hours, and, as any smoker will testify, it is not a simple matter to give up smoking for four days.

Our first reaction was to say that they did not desire to smoke because, being in the dark, they would not enjoy visually the act of smoking. But, as many blind people smoke and as many people do smoke in the dark, that is hardly the full answer. I might add here in this regard, however, that Professor Clark Hull, a psychologist, demonstrated the importance of vision for smoking. He found that blindfolded smokers were unable to distinguish between a pipe full of tobacco and one merely filled with warm air!

Not only did the absence of light in S.D. help our subjects not to think about smoking, but there was also the absence of social facilitation, obviously an important factor to smoking. These two factors would, at first, seem to explain the ease of giving up smoking during S.D. But, on the other hand, S.D. should be just the situation to increase the need to smoke, for, as we are led to believe, under stress and strain one smokes more, and surely S.D. was so stressful that our subjects should have been more aware of the urge to smoke.

Smoking is such a powerful habit, such a difficult one to break; and for those who have attempted to break the habit the first few days are usually very trying. Though I find the effect of S.D. on it hard to explain, one thought does intrude itself. Our subjects did not intend to break the smoking habit; they were merely putting it aside for a few days. In general we can tolerate unpleasant events if we know that they have a definite termination. Perhaps our subjects found it easy to do without smoking because they knew that they would soon return to it.

And they did !

That they started smoking again after release from S.D. surprises me. The present concern over the relation between smoking and lung cancer has made most people consider breaking the habit, and, when we had gotten these men by as many as four days of not smoking, it is a wonder that they returned to it. Perhaps their abstinence had come too easily to effect a permanent cure.

The source of the experience

Scientist other

Concepts, symbols and science items

Concepts

Symbols

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Commonsteps

References