What happens when your brain is deprived of stimulation? And What effect does being cut off from interaction with the outside world have on a person? What effect does it have on me, when I am locked in a windowless, soundproof isolation chamber for three days? In this episode of Mind Field, I take both an objective and a very intimate look at Isolation.
Imagine being confined to a 10-by-10-foot room in complete isolation. No timekeeping devices, no phones, no books, nothing to write on, no windows.
Michael Stevens will be staying in this room for three days.
Even in a city surrounded by people, it’s possible to feel lonely or bored.
Your brain is like a hungry sponge. It’s constantly absorbing information. It thrives when stimulated. Between smartphones and books and movies and friends and family, thousands of sensations are constantly going into our heads.
But what if it all got cut off? What is boredom?
Well, it’s believed to be an emotion that’s a less intense form of disgust. A visual representation of emotions developed by Robert Plutchik shows them all on a wheel. Notice that boredom shares a spoke with disgust and loathing. They are different intensities of the same emotion.
You see, boredom pushes us away from low-stimulus situations because variety and stimulation literally lead to neurogenesis– brain-cell growth.
We are here today doing what we do because boredom has guided us toward greater and greater challenges and bigger and more complex brains.
So what is it like to be deprived of the sensations and social interactions so many of us take for granted?
A landmark study at Harvard and Virginia Universities found that students prefer to experience physical pain over 15 minutes of boredom. To demonstrate the surprising lengths people will go to to avoid boredom, we brought in an unsuspecting subject for what he believes to be a focus group.