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Experiments With Isolation: How It Affects Us From A Scientific Perspective

IT SEEMS THAT IS NOT THREATENED BY FULL INSULATION YET . Scientists are working, vaccines are being tested, and there is a chance that the pandemic can be stopped. But, on the other hand, nothing can be said for sure. Because in April 2020, we also thought that “we’ll sit for a couple of weeks, it’s okay.” How much, if anything, can all this affect our condition? Let’s look at some interesting examples from the history of science.

Insulation experiments by Donald Hebb

Experimenting with people immersed in extreme isolation is impossible today for ethical reasons. But this was not always the case . In the 1950s, physiologist and neuropsychologist Donald Hebb , with a $ 10,000 grant from the Defense Research Council of Canada, expanded his research on the effects of sensory deprivation. Starting with experiments on rodents at Harvard, at McGill University , he had the opportunity to include humans in them.     

Graduate students were invited to participate in the experiment, who could receive $ 20 a day for this – a not bad sum for those times. They were placed in cramped rooms with a bed and a table, a little over a meter wide and two meters long, where they had to spend time alone with themselves and their thoughts. Since it was necessary to limit sensory perception in general, the volunteers wore special cardboard sleeves that did not allow them to touch the space. Their ears were covered with a U-shaped pillow, and the noise of the air conditioner additionally drowned out all external sounds.     

In fairness, the volunteers weren’t in isolation all the time. First, the researchers brought them food on a regular basis. Secondly, they were taken to the toilet, albeit wearing headphones and with their eyes closed. Nevertheless, the experiment, which was supposed to last six weeks, was canceled much earlier. Because no one has been able to spend more than a week in this kind of isolation.     

What happened? Most of the graduate students hoped to spend their time here to the benefit of thinking about their future research, scientific work and upcoming talks. But the paradox turned out to be that in a situation where the brain had maximum time to think about everything in the world, it turned out to be unable to think about anything at all. And almost all of the participants in the experiment began hallucinations : someone saw dogs in the room, which, of course, were not there, someone saw glasses of different types and shapes that appeared and disappeared, while others heard the sounds of a music box or singing of the church choir.  

Michel Sifre and his dark caves

In 1962, twenty-three- year -old French speleologist Michel Sifre spent two months in complete isolation in an underground cave, without access not only to the sun, but also to the clock and calendar. He slept and ate as his internal clock told him. According to the scientist himself, the idea came to him when, having gathered to explore an underground glacier in the Alps, he realized that the planned 15 days would not be enough, and decided to stay in it for two months. And then I thought that I could study something else at the same time.     

Sifr left his team at the entrance to the cave to call them in the morning, as soon as he woke up, and right before bed. They themselves could not call the scientist, so in general he had no idea what time it really was. It was wet and cold in the cave, and all the entertainment was limited to reading and taking notes. Also, Sifr did two tests every day : first he counted his pulse, and then he counted into the tube from 1 to 120 at a rate of one digit per second. The latter helped make one of the most important discoveries of the experiment: Sifr’s biological clock slowed down so much that he counted to 120 in five minutes. And when he was told that it was time to end the experiment (it happened on September 16), the caver thought that it was only August 20 outside the window.   

Surprisingly, in that very first experiment with the state of Sifr, everything was not bad. It is now believed that constant communication with the team, the knowledge that they are somewhere nearby, and active mental activity (keeping a journal) helped this. Because when he decided to repeat the experiment in Texas in 1972 , things quickly went wrong. Although Sifr had all the necessary equipment and conditions in the cave were much more pleasant, after two months he was in a very depressed and depressed state, and his sleep-wake cycles eventually fluctuated between 18 and 52 hours .     

Poker Player Rich ALT and dispute to 100 thousand dollars 

For a poker player, betting on something is like brushing our teeth. That’s why no one was surprised when professional poker players Rich Alati and Rory Young wagered for $ 100,000 at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas in 2019 . The most interesting was the subject of the controversy : Alati claimed that he would spend 30 days in complete isolation and darkness, while Young said that he had failed. 

The accompanying conditions were immediately discussed : the room will not have a radio, TV, telephone or any other access to the outside world, but there will be some amenities – a yoga mat, a massage ball, an exercise machine, as well as a couple of body scrubs and relaxing lavender oil in the bathroom room (which, as you know, will also be there). We also agreed that Alati’s food would be delivered from the nearest restaurant, but this would be done irregularly so that he would not be able to keep track of the time.  

Why was Rich Alati so confident? He has long practiced yoga and meditation – techniques that were supposed to help him survive for a month alone with himself and the darkness. At first, the player tried to live a normal life, but soon he began to worry about hallucinations and excessive anxiety. In the middle of the journey, Young suggested that he leave right now if he paid 50 thousand dollars, to which Alati , of course, could not agree. He left the room after 20 days , receiving $ 62,400, which they eventually negotiated.  

What can all this teach us?

Of course, these are not all insulation experiments. There has been enough research done in the Arctic and Antarctica, in space and on submarines – in other words, in extreme conditions where movement and communication restrictions are common. However, these works, scientists say , have problems with methodology. They record the changes that have occurred to a person after isolation, comparing indicators with him before isolation. But few people monitor how the physical and especially mental state changes in the process.

On the other hand, there is evidence that social isolation increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and mental problems , and appears to increase inflammation in the body. Short-term local inflammation (for example, if it is a cut finger) can even be beneficial, but long-term inflammation always carries serious risks . Science also knows that even non-extreme isolation can affect the brain and its structures, including impairment of information processing and memory, difficulty with orientation in space, and decreased ability to plan and self-control.  

Making it easier to deal with isolation 

 IF YOU STAY AT HOME WITH FAMILY OR FRIENDS, you can take advantage of the advice of astronauts who spent eight months in a relatively small dome in Hawaii as part of the HI-SEAS program: be open to each other and act together to solve problems that arise.

  AND YOU CAN STILL SING. Remember how the inhabitants of Italy, who were forbidden to leave their homes, put on whole concerts on their own balconies? It turns out that it was all for a reason. Scientists have found that when we sing together, our brains begin to actively produce oxytocin , the hormone of love, hugs and social bonds at the same time. It turns out that the vocal parts for the whole courtyard are not a violation of order, but a way to cope with quarantine anxiety. 

 The good news is that while physical and perceived isolation may be related, physical loneliness is not a sufficient condition for perceived loneliness. So if you are left alone, communicate in all available ways: using social networks, instant messengers and phones.

  Exercise will also help cope with the negative effects of self-isolation. They are important not only for keeping fit in conditions of limited activity, but also for a normal sleep-wake schedule (or, in other words, a daily regimen ), which is associated with health in every sense.

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