Horizon (1964) s45e02 Episode Script

Total Isolation

1 Oh, it's getting tough now.
This is harder than I thought.
I don't know if I can do this.
In this controversial test, six ordinary people are deprived of all sensory stimulation to discover the impact on their brains.
Oh, God.
I'm hallucinating now.
Tim, I'm hallucinating.
Science has struggled for many years to investigate this question but now, in the era of Guantanamo Bay, mass hostage taking and the increasing use of solitary confinement, it's more important than ever.
You could smell the fear and you could smell it from 15 or 20 feet.
They decided to go insane, clinically insane.
This research delves deep into the human mind and finds out what happens when you are left truly alone.
The walls are starting to close in, the walls of my mind are starting to close in.
Six people will leave their homes, jobs and friends to take part in research which for the past 40 years has been too controversial to undertake.
My fear is that I will start to lose my mind having nothing to do.
I can see meself pacing round the room and getting frustrated that I can't actually go anywhere, that I've got to stay in one place for 48 hours.
Initially I wasn't that concerned, but as the date approaches I find I'm feeling little ripples of trepidation.
I've no idea how I'll be.
I've no idea.
Maybe 48 hours in the dark's just what I need.
This disused nuclear bunker is the setting for a piece of research which is designed to study what happens to the brain when it's deprived of stimulation.
In charge is Professor Ian Robins, the man who treated some of the British Guantanamo detainees when they were released.
He's one of the country's leading experts in treating the victims of solitary confinement and torture.
We cannot feature his face for security reasons.
I think it's very important that we're looking at the impact of sensory deprivation, particularly when we think of the number of places around the world where sensory deprivation's being used as a weapon and being used as an aid to interrogation.
We know that stimulation helps to increase connections within the brain that speed the flow of information around the brain, but there have been relatively few studies of the impact of a reduction in sensory stimulation.
So it's quite a useful thing to see whether you get a reduction in that ability to process information effectively.
For 48 hours our subjects will not just be left alone.
Every effort will be made to starve their senses of any kind of stimulation.
For hour after hour some will lie in pitch-black rooms, unable to see or hear anything.
Others will endure even greater deprivations.
They will have their sense of touch cut off, their eyesight severely impaired, and all they will hear is the endless drone of white noise.
During the test the subjects will also be observed by psychologist Dr Tim Grainer.
Come on, then, this is the bunker.
Oh, wow.
Oh, wow.
Does everybody feel prepared and OK at the beginning of the experiment? Yes.
55 years ago it was sensory deprivation of the most extreme kind which led to the first experiments in this area.
When my son asks me what I did in Korea, how can I tell him that I came over here and dropped bombs on people, destroying and bringing death and destruction? In the 1950s, at the height of the Korean War, thousands of American and Canadian POWs, who had been held in conditions of sensory deprivation, appeared to have been brainwashed.
How can I go back and face my family? How can I tell them these things, that I am a criminal in the eyes of humanity? To understand more, North America's leading psychologists designed a series of extreme experiments to cut off people's senses and find out how the isolation affected their minds.
The scientist in charge, Professor Donald Hebb, was surprised by the results.
Sensory deprivation really is a way of producing extreme monotony.
It's apparently a horrible experience, getting worse and worse.
Some of our subjects talked about cruelty.
What they said was that the degree of boredom became intolerable and was, one subject said, as bad as anything that Hitler had ever done to any of his sub to hisvictims.
The scientists had discovered that the human brain needed constant stimulation for its healthy functioning.
However, the experiments were considered too cruel and were closed down.
But since then there have been 40 years of scientific advance.
Knowledge of the brain has moved on enormously.
During Hebb's period we knew very little about what was going on inside the brain.
The only way you could visualise the brain itself involved very invasive processes.
Now we have things like CA scans, MRI scans, PET scans.
They allow us to know a lot more about what's going on inside the brain and about the functional relationship between different parts of the brain.
Now, once again, normal, healthy people will be subjected to sensory deprivation.
I feel it's a bit of a paradox.
I feel very safe and very insecure at the same time.
Hello! Hello.
I'm Adam.
Just before I start, I've got four cats.
Any of you got cats at home? Adam is a stand-up comedian.
If you're sick of being covered in cat hair, get some Sellotape and wrap it round your cat.
The buzz of having a packed room roaring at everything you're saying for an hour solid is, I suppose, the best feeling It's better than sex, which just probably shows how bad I am at sex.
He leads a life of constant stimulation and fears the solitude of the dark room.
'When I think about this, I'm terrified.
'I think people could go mad.
I don't mean mad, mad permanently, but just, you know' If I get to a stage where I'm freaking out, what if I start smashing things up? Beforehand I was quite looking forward to it and as the morning's going on I'm feeling slightly more apprehensive.
Clare is studying for a psychology PhD.
She likes a challenge.
I'm not physically courageous at all, so I guess in that sense I do like to challenge myself, because that's a limitation which otherwise you've got to live with.
So I do try and push myself on things like that.
Nervous, a little bit worried.
To be honest, I want to get it started and get in there.
Mickey is a postman.
His favourite hobby is running 100-mile ultra-marathons.
It's mind blowing.
It's not just the physical thing, it's the mental thing.
He plans to treat the isolation like an endurance test.
There's times where you're so low you want to sit down and cry.
You've just got to think about the positive things in life.
You've just got to say to yourself, "Yeah, I can do it.
I'm going to get there.
I'm going to finish it.
" At the heart of the research, the psychologists want to investigate precisely how the brain will be disrupted over the 48-hour period.
They will conduct a series of tests which will measure any deterioration in the subject's ability to perform the simplest of tasks.
They'll be tested before they go in and when they come out.
This is the visual memory test.
Could you copy this design onto here for me, please? Now? Right now.
30 minutes later they're asked to recall the design and re-draw it from memory.
Off you go.
Drawing test, we're looking at people's ability to recognise and learn from copying a complex figure and then be able to recreate that from memory.
It's a test of how well their memory is functioning.
This one should be a square.
At this stage they seem to be able to remember and recreate the original design well.
What I'd like you to do is read these words out beginning up here and going down this column.
And this is the information processing test.
Blue, black In this test the subjects are asked not to read the words as written but to say the colour in which they're printed.
Red, green, black.
It tests the brain's ability to process two conflicting pieces of information.
Red, black, blue.
Very good, OK.
At the moment the subjects' brains seem to be in good shape.
Did I get it all right? You did actually, yeah.
Their ability to remember, concentrate and process information is fine.
But what will they be like after 48 hours in the dark room deprived of all stimulation? This is the room where the experiment takes place.
Oh, wow! That's bleak.
So how are you feeling now? Nervous.
Nervous and excited? OK.
In this room there are two cameras, three microphones.
The cameras have infrared so we can see at all times.
How are you feeling? Quite depressed actually.
I don't know.
There's something very prison-like about it.
Yeah, 48 hours of this.
OK, Mickey, I'm going to turn the light off.
We'll see you later on.
OK, thanks.
See you later.
Good luck, thank you.
Shut the door on your way out! Will do.
All right, then.
But within seconds Clare gets very anxious and turns the lights back on.
God, this is weird.
I can't see a thing.
It's pitch black.
I can't see my hands.
I'm talking just cos, I suppose, it's giving me something to hear.
I can't bear the thought of what it's going to be like in 47½ hours' time.
It's not going to happen.
Straightaway the lack of stimulation is having a disturbing effect.
Also, it's a little bit cold in here, and I think my blanket is wet.
I think, with Clare, firstly she was very anxious when she went into the experiment but, once in there, was finding it difficult to decide whether her sensory judgements were accurate, because she was in complete darkness so it was an extremely difficult thing to do.
Hello? Clare's sheets were checked.
They were a little bit cold but they were not wet.
'Hello, what's the problem?' SHE GASPS I don't think people are taking my concerns very seriously about the sheets being wet.
'Nobody should have to sleep in wet sheets.
' The subjects have been alone for only a short time.
Across the globe, thousands of prisoners are held in solitary confinement for vastly longer periods of time.
In America alone, there are 20,000 such inmates.
62-year-old Paris Carriger was found guilty of murder and sentenced by an Arizona court to 100 years in prison and the death penalty.
I have spent several years off and on in a standard isolation cell.
What that means is that this is a cell approximately six feet by eight feet.
It is a place where you're kept in the dark.
The times that you were spending at that time By law they couldn't leave you in more than 15 days without taking you out for four before they put you back in.
Paris soon developed his own way of coping.
I went away in my head and I found a place that I could deal with better.
And I only became aware that this was self-destructive when I couldn't stop going into it.
I would imagine dogs, horses and the smell of freedom, the sound of a brook.
And I would play this set of images in my head and sometimes I would wake up and I would catch myself sitting cross-legged on the floor and rocking.
I would have been sitting there long enough to wear sores on the back sides of my knees and the bottoms of my ankles.
Many psychologists believe sensory deprivation caused by various kinds of solitary confinement can affect a crucial function of the brain called the central executive.
No-one knows if this is controlled by a specific part of the brain but it describes the mental processes which coordinate functions such as language, memory and vision.
It allows us to understand and interact with the world around us.
One aim of this research will be to find out how badly the central executive is affected by 48 hours without stimulation.
The second group of subjects are about to endure even harsher conditions than those in the dark room.
Judy is a copywriter for a toy manufacturer.
Quite excited to get started, I think.
Barney is a film archivist.
Just sort of dislocation, strangeness, fear.
Bill is a former ad executive.
I'm actually starting to feel a little more nervous about the whole experience.
This is a very rather intimidating place.
He thinks he's going to be able to cope with the isolation well by relying on the power of meditation.
Every day I like to spend time on my own.
I like to get up early and have those early morning hours all to myself.
I've sometimes fantasised that I'd like to be a hermit and maybe just come out every couple of weeks and buy a few supplies and then go back to my cabin.
Once again the subjects have to undergo a series of tests to discover the effect of sensory deprivation on the central executive.
These will be repeated at the end of the two days.
So I'll give you one letter and I want you to list as many words as possible that begin with that letter.
This is the verbal fluency test, which requires them to use memory and language.
OK, the first letter is F.
Then the central executive's ability to switch to a different category is tested.
Next I'd like you to list as many animals as possible in one minute.
A rat, a hamster, a rabbit.
A leopard, a puma.
They seem to be able to cope for now but what will happen in 48 hours? Then the suggestibility test.
So what I'm going to do is read out a sort of short story to you.
This examines the central executive's ability to absorb new information and check it against that already stored in the memory.
Anna Thompson of South Croydon was on holiday in Spain when she was held up outside her hotel and robbed of her handbag, which contained The suggestibility test is looking at the extent to which people start to accept a different point of view and to come to believe that they have somehow made a mistake and they've changed their view.
30 minutes later, a series of misleading questions are put to them.
Were the assailants black or white? Will the subjects be influenced and change their account of the story? Gosh, you know, I thought they were Oriental.
Did the woman hit one of the assailants with her fist or handbag? No, she kicked him.
At the moment they seem able to resist suggestion.
But will 48 hours of nothing break them down? They start to put on the devices which will cut off their sensory perception.
Here's the goggles, you can't see much.
Are they comfortable? - Mm-hm.
- OK.
It's quite claustrophobic, isn't it? I mean, you know, I can't see anything but the vaguest of shapes.
Truly bizarre.
I don't know how long I'll last.
I'll just keep going.
Finally they're exposed to white noise and left alone.
Within an hour, Judy settles down to sleep.
Shortly followed by Barney.
And the same thing is happening in the dark rooms.
Only Bill stays awake.
He sticks to his plan and meditates.
This is like a perfect mantra meditation facility.
It immediately made me very peaceful and blissful.
The headphones, which give kind of this low white noise sound, is sounding very much like a tropical waterfall.
Bill's been awake for quite a bit.
It's really interesting because the others all fell asleep, you know, within an hour and a half of getting in, whereas he's stayed awake.
What I think is incredible is he is the only person who scored high on the intraversion scores.
Everybody else scored high on the extraversion.
It's almost as though they've coped with sensory deprivation by having to fall asleep.
It's nine hours into the test, and darkness falls.
Now the subjects have to face up to the long hours of nothing.
I think this is a bit of a bit of a low.
I'm finding it grossly boring at the moment.
Now I'm awake.
If it is the morning I'm now stuck here all day and Oh, my God.
That's unbearable.
Dawn breaks on the second day.
18 hours have passed in the bunker.
As part of the research, the scientists want to find out how long it takes the subjects to lose track of time in the absence of watches or sunlight.
And as the morning progresses, it's clear some of them are already becoming disorientated.
Oh, this is weird, I've no idea how long I've slept for now because I've slept twice in the night.
So let me have a little guess now what time it is.
I can't really know, can I? It could be six in the morning.
It could be one in the afternoon.
I've no idea how far through this experiment we are.
But I don't really.
There is no real gauge of time.
That's why we need the sun, or a clock.
For university lecturer Brain Keenan the lack of daylight had a profound effect when he was taken hostage in Beirut and held in a windowless cellar.
I reckon I was in the dark about seven or eight months, I can't be sure.
It was very hard to tell time.
There was no daylight at all so I slept fitfully.
I didn't go to sleep and sleep for the eight hours.
I catnapped.
I slept for ten minutes, woke, stayed awake for a couple of hours, went to sleep for an hour or maybe three hours.
It was that kind of random pattern.
The darkness didn't just affect his sleep.
It deeply troubled his waking hours as well.
The nothingness was extremely hard because the question in your head is, how am I going to get through the next ten minutes? Or, months later, how am I going to get through the next day, if there is another day? Is there enough left in my head? Until eventually the sensory deprivation became all-consuming.
The blackness was palpable.
There was nothing there to confirm to me that there was human existence outside me or even in me.
I remember on one occasion waking up and having to squeeze my face and my chest and thinking to myself, "Am I still alive? "How do I know I'm alive?" After just 24 hours in the dark room some of the subjects are having unsettling reactions.
It's quite it's getting quite it's getting quite depressing.
I'd kill for a tiny bit of light.
I'm the guinea pig.
In the other rooms the subjects are having their own particular difficulties.
Far from cutting off the stimuli, the arm cuffs are causing rashes and pain so the psychologists instruct that they be removed.
It's also becoming clear that their brains are starting to slow down.
I'm finding creative thought a little bit harder at the moment.
It's really hard to stimulate your brain with no light.
It's blanking me.
It's not making me I can feel my brain just, I don't know, not wanting to do anything.
It's hard to know exactly what's happening, but what we do know is that the cells which connect nerve cells together and speed up the flow of information, dendrites, may lose some of their connections in the lack of stimulation.
We certainly know the converse is true, that if you stimulate the brain you increase the rate of dendritic growth and the number of connections.
Just in the last sort of while I've been feeling agitated.
I don't really want to be here.
HE LAUGHS I'd rather be doing other things.
Things are starting to get on my nerves, just the whole thing.
And I'm not feeling that great.
Kind of being observed like some kind of helpless lab rat.
I think it's been more challenging than he suspected.
As it's become increasingly sort of boring and increasingly sort of arduous, it's harder to cope and he's finding there's no other means that he can access to sort of help him cope.
Well, it's like I'm in a little submarine and I'm getting closer and closer to the bottom of the ocean and so, like, the pressure That's the only analogy I can make.
It's 30 hours into the experiment.
Judy seems to be sleeping through the whole experience but in the other rooms the pressure is building.
This is a bit of freedom.
That you try to deny me.
As the test progresses, the subjects pace endlessly back and forth across their rooms.
This behaviour of pacing up and down is something we see in animals as well as people when they're kept in confinement.
I think it's something you can do without needing to think about it, in part attempting to exercise, but I think it's simply a reaction to the lack of any input, and you provide the input physically to yourself.
I wasn't enjoying it.
I thought, "I'm just doing this because there's nothing else to do.
I'm walking back and forth.
" What could be more monotonous than walking back and forth in the dark, where your only thrill is, am I about to hit the wall by mistake cos I've miscounted the steps? Yeah, I did think, this is close to insanity.
THUMP Oh! The same behaviour afflicted Paris Carriger during the long years in solitary confinement.
I walked, paced, at a very quick pace .
anywhere from 18 to 22 hours a day.
I would pace three steps forward, three steps back, and do that pivot, so that I would reach a point where I couldn't stand to pivot because it hurt at every point.
After 18 years in isolation, he was released when it was established that another man had committed the murder.
However, the effects of isolation have remained with him.
Only recently do I realise what I paid for that solitary confinement.
I have no ability with time whatsoever.
I can tell you whether I did something or did not do something, but I can't necessarily tell you in what order.
follow simple directions.
I cannot function with anything that has too much in the way of information coming.
I can't drive on a busy street.
In my opinion I have lost .
two-thirds of what was once my capability.
I am now ten years out, it has not changed, so I conclude that this is permanent.
The subjects have been in the bunker for 40 hours.
Looking from a window above It's like a story of love Barney seems to have found a way of coping.
Can you hear me? And Judy is still asleep.
But in the other rooms it's a different story.
In the last sort of hour and a half Adam's gone very quiet, which is unusual for him.
For the first 25 hours, 26 hours, every time that he was awake and his eyes were open he was talking.
If he wasn't talking he was doing something.
In the last while, he looks almost as though he's been crying.
He's been rubbing his eyes a few times and we were wondering, chaps, I really can't do any more.
" So he may well be sort of struggling at the minute and wondering whether he should stay or whether it's just too much.
I think I'm hitting a wall now, in my mind.
HE SIGHS I think over time it's becoming more and more difficult for them to sort of feel safe and keep themselves distracted.
Another 24 hours might really push that over the edge.
The long hours without stimulation are creating some very strange experiences.
Oh, God, I'm hallucinating now.
Tim, I'm hallucinating, cos I can see a pile of of oyster shells, like 5,000 oyster shells in a pile.
Oh, God.
Empty shells, to represent all the food, nice food I could have eaten while I've been inside here! I go and touch them.
It's gone.
It's starting to appear now, come back to me.
I hope someone can hear me.
I'm hallucinating.
'You would just see moving shapes, lights, saw some little tiny cars, zebras.
You know, it was quite nice.
'The only things that were a bit scary were the things 'that tricked you that they were real, like that there was somebody in the room or something.
'That was a bit scary.
' 'It was weird.
I started imagining things and thought the room was taking off at one time as well.
'There was a load of fighter planes buzzing round and that, a swarm of mosquitoes.
' In the dark room people would hallucinate because there's nothing to focus attention on.
Now in the absence of information the human brain carries on working and processing information, even if there's no information to process.
After a while it starts to create that information itself.
Held in the dark for months, Brian Keenan experienced the most terrible hallucinations.
I can remember one distinctly, because it was dreadfully lucid and clear.
It was about being alone and in a desert and being very, very hot and then being instantly bone-numbingly cold.
Having thethe winds of the desert stripping away, as if you could feel your flesh falling off you.
And so you were left as a bony hulk shivering in the corner.
But they were not just visual hallucinations from which he was suffering.
I heard music and it seemed to be coming into the cell.
But I knew it wasn't, but I heard it.
It was all sorts of instruments being played.
I heard bagpipes, I heard African drums, I heard zithers, flamenco guitars.
And it was really interesting and then, when it wouldn't go away after a few minutes, it got really frightening.
And when I was frightened by it the tempo of it lifted and the volume of it lifted and there were more instruments, and cellos were playing and orchestras, pianos, and everything was happening louder and louder and louder.
And then I got really afraid and that's when I kind of started banging my head against the wall, just to make this go away.
It's a way you would try and engage your mind forcefully on something else, but it wouldn't go away.
And the intoxication of it was not comforting and it went on for a very, very long time until I was really frightened of it, more frightened of the music in my head than the man with a gun, I'd say it myself.
Brian was finally released four years later.
It took him many months to rebuild his mind and many more years to rebuild his life.
It's the 47th hour, and amazingly everyone has stayed the course.
The last sort of while has been rather heavy and feeling thepressure of being here.
Oh, I'm losing the will to think.
I'm losing I don't have I'm just feeling numb now.
I don't want to talk to you.
At last, the long wait is over.
Hello, Clare.
It's Ian.
Your 48 hours are up and we're coming to get you.
Hello, it's Tim.
Oh! Oh! Oh, you scared the life out of me! Hello.
Sorry about that.
Oh, God.
Adam, I'm speaking to you because the 48-hour period of the experiment has come to an end.
Ohhhh-ho-ho! Oh, thank God! I can't tell you, you've got no idea how good this feels.
I thought you might be pleased.
Oh, I want to kiss you.
Hello, Judy.
For some of the subjects the past 48 hours have been a dreadful experience.
Now the scientists will discover just how the ability to do even the simplest tasks has deteriorated.
The series of tests carried out earlier is repeated.
The visual memory test.
The drawing that you drew earlier, I'd like you to draw it for me again, if you could.
Mickey really struggled to recall the design after 30 minutes.
His memory's capacity has fallen by 36%.
Several other subjects also had their memories impaired.
But the effect on the central executive, which controls the higher functioning of the brain, seems to have been more pronounced.
So I say the colour of these, not the word? OK.
In the information processing test, all the subjects found it difficult to resist their first impulse, to read the words written, rather than the colour of the ink in which they are printed.
Black! But Adam does significantly worse.
Oh, it's so much harder.
It took him 69% longer to complete the test and he made six times as many mistakes.
Black! Gosh.
This is painful! You're nearly there.
Green, black.
Black, red.
That was just really hard.
Adam did particularly badly on the tests of information processing.
Now, this could be down simply to individual difference but it could also be explained by the fact that Adam's particularly extrovert.
Extroverts set up their lives in a way where they're constantly seeking and receiving lots of information.
In the absence of the information that ability to process it was reduced.
Now I'm going to give you a letter of the alphabet and I want you to list as many words as possible that begin with that letter.
So the first letter is F.
Bill struggles on the verbal fluency.
In just 48 hours his central executive's ability to pull together memory and language to create a category has been badly affected.
Erer Gosh.
And the same has happened to several others.
Er OK.
One Tuesday morning in July the couple were leaving the house to go to work.
For the scientists, the most important test of all is the suggestibility test.
Anna and John ran after the boy and John caught hold of the bicycle and brought it to a halt.
It reflects how sensory deprivation makes subjects more vulnerable to outside influence.
I'll ask you some prompt questions, OK? Some prompts.
Was the boy frightened of the big van coming up the hill? coming up the hill either.
Was the boy frightened of the big van coming up the hill? Yes.
Did John grab the boy's arm or shoulder? I think he grabbed the bike.
Did John grab the boy's arm or shoulder? Arm.
On the suggestibility test we see an increase in the level of suggestibility on the part of the men.
- Was the boy frightened of the big van coming up the hill? - Yes.
Both women didn't show any increase in suggestibility whatsoever, but the men all had quite a marked increase in suggestibility.
This leads me to think that when put under that sort of stress of reduced sensation, this particular group of men were more likely to start to question their own recall, question their own beliefs and be willing to take somebody else's viewpoint.
It's a controversial conclusion, throwing doubt over evidence gathered from people held in sensory deprivation.
I think it's very important, this increase in suggestibility when exposed to sensory deprivation, because in many parts of the world people are held in situations of sensory deprivation.
That means that the evidence that is accumulated in those places must be considered very unreliable because people will, after a while, start to take on board the views of their interrogators.
Overall, the tests show for the first time the critical impact of such conditions on the functioning of the central executive.
We see a reduction in the speed of information processing.
We see a reduction in ability to abstract and verbal fluency.
And we see an increase in suggestibility.
All those would suggest a deterioration in the functioning of the central executive.
After two days underground, the subjects are finally released.
How does it feel to be out? Fantastic.
Absolutely fantastic.
God, I think I'll see this for a while.
God, sunlight.
Lovely day, innit? Beautiful.
Absolutely beautiful.
How does it feel to be out? Unbelievable.
God, I never thought a nuclear bunker would look so beautiful.
It's actually amazing.
Is that all the flowers? When we arrived I saw the ugliness and now, now I'm seeing all the I'm hearing the birds, I'm seeing the clouds and the green and the yellow, the buttercups.
Two days is actually an incredibly long time to not see any sunlight, isn't it? It's the longest in my life I've ever gone.
That's just great.
Ohh! Our volunteers were in a sensory deprivation environment for 48 hours, and being treated humanely, and if they can have quite marked effects on their memory and concentration it gives us a great insight into what can happen to people kept in solitary confinement over possibly many months or even years.
Four decades after the last examination of sensory deprivation, these findings suggest just how fragile the human mind can be when confronted with the simple reality of being left truly alone.