Sunday, October 28, 2007

Self Assessment

1. Theory
This topic I found so interesting, I found that there were a lot of case studies and opinions but not theories pertaining to the exact concept of solitary confinement. Instead I focused on specific psychological effects of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation.

2. Research
It was so interesting to research this topic, Although I found the subject somewhat depressing. I found the more I read about the topic the more people were completely ready to play the blame game but not to fix the problem. I didn’t address this issue in the essay as is such as huge issue with so many options to consider. I spent a lot of time researching this essay with online sources and peer reviewed journal articles.

3. Written Expression
A readability analysis was performed resulting in a score of 19 on the gunning-Fog test (meaning an age of 19 should result in ease of reading). APA style was used and the essay followed the style of introduction, main concepts and a conclusion. No tables or summaries were needed and so were not used. Word count 1368.

4. Online engagement
My online engagement was consistent and I posted a number of blogs leading up to my final essay. They included general ideas about solitary confinement and more specific concepts that I developed in my final essay. I also received quite a number of comments to which I responded. I commented on a several other blogs of which there is a link on my homepage to their blogs and more specifically to my comments. I would have liked to include more links to online sites which would compliment my essay, however I found it difficult to find credible sources that were also interesting and relevant to my topic.

Solitary Confinement

Some believed that to be permanently isolated from human contact is to be sentenced to the punishment of living death (Gomez, 2006). Although maybe extreme, this description is not far from the lives of many inmates housed in solitary confinement all over the world, such as those in the Marion State Penitentiary, Illinios. With little or no contact with other humans, the prisoners are forced to live days, weeks, months and even up to 20 years without companionship or external stimuli in their environment. As humans are social creatures (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008), this lack of stimuli often has negative psychological consequences (Louw & O’Brien, 2007) including suicide, depression, chronophobia and Ganser syndrome. These and other negative psychological effects are the result of lack of human companionship and external stimuli. Humans are inquisitively social creatures that would barely survive in social isolation (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Prisons have adopted solitary confinement as a means to remove socially undesirable behaviour from the general population, but the detrimental psychological effects it can cause are also a social cause for concern.

Solitary confinement is a controversial form of imprisonment where an inmate is denied contact with other prisoners and has very limited contact with members of prison staff. Inmates are often confined to their cells for 23 hours a day with only one hour to exercise, and even this is done in a small, enclosed area also in solitary. While it is usually stated as a measure of societal protection for the inmate it is also seen as a form of torture in which sensory deprivation can occur. It was later discovered that no form of torture was worse because it resulted in many adverse psychological effects such as delusions, depression, panic and anxiety, dissatisfaction with life and in some instances, psychosis (Frinter, 2005).

Prison authorities, predominantly the Marion State Prison in Illinois, USA believed that by implementing physical and psychological torture such as in solitary confinement, they could control dissent in their prisoners (Gomez, 2006). Opponents of solitary confinement claim that it is a form of cruel and unusual punishment because of the lack of human contact and sensory deprivation which has a severe negative impact on a prisoner's mental state that may lead to certain mental illnesses such as depression or an existential crisis. Depression, delusions, panic, dissatisfaction with life and madness are all psychological side effects of solitary confinement and all of these are encompassed in the definition of chronophobia which is the duration or immensity of time, a state which is also referred to as prison neurosis. It is a fear of time and not being able to contain its proliferation (Meyer 2006). There are many psychological effects such as chronophobia solitary confinement can result in including Ganser syndrome.

Ganser syndrome is a rare dissociate disorder regarded defined as having vorbeiredeen or ‘approximate answers’, somatic conversion symptoms, clouding of consciousness and hallucinations (Anderson, Sestoft & Lillebaek, 2001). A sufferer may answer wrongly to relatively easy questions that have a right or wrong answer. Previously seen as a fictitious disorder it is more common among prison inmates who have been housed in solitary confinement and may be caused by situations in which the individual experiences extreme stress.
A study conducted by Gendreau, Freedman, Wilde and Scott (1972) found that just one week of solitary confinement had significant slowing in their EEG frequency after this sensory deprivation.

Sensory deprivation is the state of being cut off from almost all sensory stimulation from the external environment. It is difficult if not impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons why social isolation and sensory deprivation in solitary confinement situations causes mental and emotional breakdown in prisoners. However, in addition to the stimuli and interactions they are denied, how people's minds are affected by others controlling every aspect of their lives must be considered. From where they are and how long they will be there to how much food they get and when, also light and noise levels, restricted and controlled personal possessions, clean cloths and bedding and whether or not they are allowed fresh air is managed externally. They are not able to make even the simplest personal decision such as taking a short walk or making a phone call. Every aspect of their lives is controlled and this in itself can have detrimental effects on their mental health. As humans are social creatures, with no one to affirm or deny the validity of their thoughts and feelings, one inmate stated living in solitary confinement resulted in his “feelings becoming indistinct, emotions unpredictable. The monotony makes thought hard to separate and capsulate” (Gomez, 2006). Extended deprivation in itself can lead to depression, anxiety and antisocial behaviour, but when paired with the other elements of solitary confinement its effects on an individuals mental health can be devastating.

As well as being social, human beings are also naturally curious. Drastically reducing the amount of ‘normal’ social interaction as well as of reasonable mental stimulus, exposure to the natural world and of almost everything that makes life human and bearable, is emotionally, physically, and psychologically destructive. This is because it denies the ability to ask questions and seek reasons and information to form explanations that allow us to understand ourselves as well as our world and our place and purpose in the world. It is logical that the prisoners feel less stable and secure overall when the things that their brain and body rely on to connect to and understand their surroundings are taken away from them (Frinter, 2005).
On the rare occasions that the inmate housed in solitary confinement are held for protective reasons or they are released from prison they must then face the daunting task of re-entering society. After years of little to no personal choice within the prison environment they may well lose the ability to think for themselves and make their own decisions and choices freely (Tosh, 1982). This not only impacts the individual but also the wider community.

Empirical research on solitary confinement has consistently and unequivocally documented the harmful consequences of living in a socially isolated environment. Evidence of negative psychological effects of solitary confinement comes from personal accounts, descriptive studies and systematic research.
Previously healthy prisoners held in isolation have developed clinical symptoms usually associated with psychosis or severe affective disorders including Chronophobia and Ganser syndrome as well as all types of psychiatric morbidity, many have committed suicide. Some individuals can tolerate isolation better than others, and the most extreme symptoms may often be associated with the most extreme environmental conditions, there is by no means a consistent effect across individuals.
The never ending supervision and segregation, the harsh solitude and minimalist lifestyle are deliberately designed to not only incapacitate, but psychologically curb any prisoner’s personality traits that have been deemed by society as undesirable or dangerous.
In combination with political use, behaviour modification techniques such as solitary confinement to silence dissent, extended civil death towards the horizon on punishment that categorised isolation as and inhuman treatment as preventative detention, in turn not only justifying the violation of basic human rights, but simultaneously anaesthetising the public to the realities of incarceration.


Anderson, H.C., Sestoft, D., & Lillebaek, T. (2001) Ganser syndrome after solitary confinement in prison: A short review and a case report. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 55(3), 199-201.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B.J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature 1st ed.) Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Frinter, C. (2005) Lonely madness: The effects of solitary confinement and social isolation on mental and emotional health. Neurobiology and Behaviour. Accessed on 27th October 2007.

Gendreau, P., Freedman, N.L.,Wilde, G.J., & Scott, G.D. (1972) Changes in EEG alpha frequency and evoked response latency during solitary confinement. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 79(1). 54-59.

Gomez, A. E., (2006) Resisting living death at marion federal penitentiary, 1972. Radical History Reviews. 96. 58-86.
Louw, H., & O’Brien, C. (2007) The psychological effects on social confinement: An early instance of psychology in south african courts. South African Journal of Psychology. 37(1).

Meyer, J. (2006) Chronophobia: On time in the art of the 1960’s. Art Bulletin. 88(4). 781-783.

Tosh, J. (1982). The pains of imprisonment. California: Sage Publications. Accessed 28/10/07 Accessed 26/10/07

Saturday, October 27, 2007

When I first saw the term 'solitary confinement' I thought it referred to a more general form of social isolation. I have since come to recognise that it is more specifically the confinement of inmates in prisons.
Numerous studies have been conducted on this form of imprisonment, many of which document the extreme negative psychological effects it imposes on its victims. which leaves the question, where and when will it begin to change? In California, Governor Schwarzenegger has just announce that he will put $1 billion dollars into 10,000 new beds for mentally unstable prison inmates. the cells will be fitted properly, which will hopefully decrease the ability for prisoners to hang themselves (the number 1 cause of suicide in prisons).
Because a lot of the inmates are places in solitary confinement for their own protection, it is sad that they must endure the torture of being without any form of social companionship.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Marion Prison Lockdown

This is an aerial view of the USP Marion Penitentiary in Illinois. It is one of the two highest security prisons in America. It houses up to 814 inmates and is also home to the now infamous lock down that occurred in 1983. As a result of two stabbings against guards the entire prison was in a state of 24 hour lock down. After this the warden declared a state of emergency and the prison has remained in a permanent state of lock down ever since. The prisoners are in their cells for 23 hours every day with just one hour for showers and limited exercise. A standard cell is just eight by ten feet and inmates are required to eat, drink, sleep and defecate in them. Standard vocational and educational activities are virtually non existent. This is one example of completely legal solitary confinements where the health of the people concerned is not measured and not even of concern.

At most other prisons lock downs may last several days to several weeks, however are Marion, the lock down is permanent. The entire prison has been made into a 'control unit' where the objective is absolute physical and psychological control over the prisoners.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Solitary Confinement

What are the psychological effects of solitary confinement? Why do these occur and what does knowledge about these psychological effects reveal more generally about human social psychology?

We have all heard of Genie, the poor young girl confined by her parents to her room. and of Victor, the 12 year old boy who wondered out from the woods in Southern France and who was then forced to live and act as a 'proper' human being. Both never fully recovered psychologically from their experiences.

Although extreme, these two cases shed light on the severity of the effects social isolation and solitary confinement can have, both socially and psychologically.

For my blog I am planning on looking at less extreme cases of solitary confinement such as in prisons and correctional facilities. Does anyone have any other examples of modern day legal solitary confinement situations?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Appendix A

Self Assessment:

The main aim of this essay was to summarise experiments, so little theory was required. It was however essential to be familiar with background theories and definitions on aggression, prejudice and stereotypes so as to understand the literature completely.

Extensive research was conducted for this essay including online research of sites dedicated to the individual experiments as well as Peer reviewed journal articles and texts books to have a braod understanding of each experiment. The results and findings of the studies were thouroughly researched to ensure that although the word count was tight, all relevent information was included.

Written Expression:
APA format was used and headings and subheadings added for ease of reading. The methodology and results were worded in a way that was simplistic yet informative and relevent. Adding pictures and videos as well as links to more information makes it enticing to read and hopefully interesting as well. I conducted a readability test and and calculated the Gunning-Fox Index which resulted in a score of 16 (Meanig 16 years of schooling should result in ease of reading). The summary table at the end provides a overview of each experiment, its researchers, methods and results. The word count is 1428.

Online Engagement:
Because I was researching studies that had already been conducted I didnt feel there was a need for prior online enagement. I already knew which experiment I would be summarising and din't need any extra help. However, as prejudice is a subject close to my heart I am looking forward to hearing peoples views on the subject and hopefully being able to pass on my oppinions not only in reponse to comments on my blog but on others as well.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Classic Psychological Experiments

Classic Experiments

What are the classic social psychological experiments which revealed important understandings about prejudice, stereotyping and aggression?

Prejudice is an unjustifiable, usually negative, attitude towards a group and its members. It generally involves stereotyped beliefs, negative feelings, and a predisposition to discriminatory action (Myers 2004). Prejudice often leads to aggression, that is, any behaviour intended to harm another person who is motivated to avoid the harm (Baurmeister & Bushman 2008). Four incredibly well known studies that outline these behaviours are Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, Bandura’s Bobo dolls and imitative learning of children, Jane Elliotts now infamous blue-eyed / brown-eyed exercise and the Milgram experiment of conformity to authority figures. Each of these studies outlines the ease with which behaviours and attitudes can be changed.


The director of the Stanford Prison Experiment was renowned social psychologist Phillip Zimbardo. Along with his colleagues he comprised probably one of the most influential, notorious and controversial experiments in social psychology (1999-2004). A group of 24 young men were divided randomly into two groups, prisoners and guards. The prisoners were given identity numbers, smock dresses and ankle chains, while the guards were given uniforms, nightsticks and mirrored sunglasses, and were told to run their pretend prison as they saw fit as long as they refrained from physical abuse. The prisoners were placed in tiny cells for the entire stay without any contact from their usual social network. The guards worked only eight hour shifts and returned to their normal routines while not on shift.

The results surprised everyone including the researchers. The basement smelt of human excrement, guards were forcing the prisoners to simulate sex with each other and prisoners were depressed and on hunger strikes. Most seemed to have become lost in the roles they’d been allocated. The illusion became reality, the boundary between the role the person was playing and his real identity was erased. Nice boys became brutal guards and the prisoners who were healthy and active became passive and sick, some even developed severe stress reactions and had to be released. No one ever said ‘I quit the experiment’, as they had lost all perspective. Although the experiment was meant to last two weeks it was called off on the morning of just the sixth day.
Sadism and submission to sadism became the organising principles behind life in the basement. What happened in the basement demonstrated that any given situation can lead apparently good people to commit terrible and violent acts.


More formally known as the Transmission of Aggression through Imitation of Aggressive Models was a study conducted by A. Bandura, D. Ross and S.A. Ross (1963), and is a classic psychological experiment focused on the social learning of aggression (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). 72 male and female children (equal numbers boys and girls) aged between 3 and 6 years old, were exposed to an aggressive model of behaviour, a non-aggressive model, or no model (control group). The aggressive model showed adults (one male, one female) abusing a large inflated clown called a Bobo doll. The aggression was in the form or physical kicking, punching, and beating coupled with verbal abuse such as “hit him down!” and “Sock him in the nose!” The non-aggressive model showed the adults playing with the doll along with Tinker Toys where there was no aggressive behaviour. After 10 minutes of exposure the children were removed from the room and taken into another ‘game’ room where they were confronted with both aggressive toys including a Bobo doll, a mallet and dart guns as well as non-aggressive toys like a tea set, crayons and teddy bears.

The results showed that the children who had watched the aggressive model had the highest levels of aggression thus proving the hypothesis that there would be a high level of imitative learning in a new situation in the absence of the model. Male children also had higher levels of aggression than the female participants (Burger 2004).
Bandura and his Colleagues later proved that aggression does not need to be live, and filmed models of aggression are also highly influential.


The day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, Jane Elliott gave her third-grade students a first-hand experience in the meaning of discrimination. In an all white, all Christian community she strived to make her students understand racism, discrimination and prejudice. She adopted the ‘Blue-eyed / Brown-eyed’ exercise which is now famous around the world. Participants were treated as inferior or superior based solely on the colour of their eyes. Jane Elliott told her pupils a pseudo-scientific explanation of how eye colour defined people: blue eyes showed people who were cleverer, quicker and more likely to succeed. They were superior to people with brown eyes who were described as untrustworthy, lazy and stupid. The following day the roles were reversed.

Results from this original demonstration showed how quickly children can succumb to discriminatory behaviour and how easily prejudicial attitudes can lead to frustration, broken friendships and vicious behaviour. The children with blue eyes began exercising their new found status over the brown eyed children with hurtful remarks. ‘I watched what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third graders in the space of 15 minutes’ (Jane Elliott, Frontline – a class divided). Thus was born the now famous blue-eyed, brown-eyed exercise which has been taken around the world. The only difference between the original exercise and the one used today is that she now sets it up so that the blue-eyed people are ghettoized in the middle of the room and the brown-eyed people are sitting on each side of the blues and are able to keep them under surveillance at all times. Also, the roles are not reversed as this would destroy the reality of the experience.


Although the Milgram experiment (2003) does not directly study aggression or prejudice it outlines how social surroundings and interactions influence a persons behaviour. In 1961 participants answered local advertisements to take part in an experiment on 'the effect of punishment on learning' at Yale University. They assumed the role of a 'Teacher' while a 'Learner', would try to learn word pairs read out by the them . The 'Learner would then receive a punishment for every incorrect answer. The Teacher was instructed by the experimenter to give the Learner increasingly severe shocks every time he made a mistake. The shocks started at 15 volts and increased by 15 volts in thirty levels to 450 volts. The learner was taken to an adjoining room, strapped to a chair with an electrode attached on his forearm. As the experiment progressed and the shocks increased, the learner began reacting heavily to the shocks' and asked for the experiment to stop, to be let out of the room and eventually begins screaming with pain until finally nothing is heard. The 'Learner' was in fact an actor as was the experimenter who instructed to 'Teacher' to continue with the shocks.

Contrary to what was expected, instead of the anticipated 1%, 65% of participants were completely obedient and continued administering the maximum shock until they were told by the experimenter to stop (Full Results). The results surprised Milgram and his associate psychologists. Although participants showed distress due to differing behaviour dispositions, his experiment showed the susceptibility of human behaviour to conform and respond to authoritative social structures irrespective of any moral and ethical dilemma.

I have ranked these studies based on their findings and in order of which studies I believe should be exposed to the outside community. By seeing studies such as these I would hope that awareness will be raised and hopefully attitudes and behaviours can be changed. Firstly, the Stanford Prison experiment will go down in history as a compelling but controversial experiment. It proved just how easily healthy and mentally stable people can be changed simply by gaining authority over others in the form of a label and uniform. in less than a week seemingly good people had borken the spirits of their less fortunate counterparts. Secondly, Albert Bandura brought to light just how impressionable children are at learning behaviours and attitudes. The ‘Children see, children do’ ad campaign run by the Australian Government takes a similar approach and is extremely confronting, as were the results from this enlightening experiment. Through her blue-eyed / brown-eyed exercise Jane Elliott has brought awareness to many people the prejudice and discrimination certain people are subjected to everyday. It is unjustified and inappropriate behaviour that no one deserves to be exposed to. Finally, the results of Milgram’s experiment showed how influential figures of authority can make a person go against their morals and beliefs just to conform to the authority figures expectations.

Prejudice, aggression and stereotyping are unprovoked negative thoughts and behaviours towards a particular group or its members. Be it healthy adults or young children, these four infamous psychological experiments showed how easily figures of authority and tokens can influence behaviour. All these studies go to show that no matter how strong ones moral and ethical beliefs are, when placed in a confronting social situation where the possibility of prejudice and therefore aggression is introduced, role playing may become reality.

To view a summarised table of these four experiments click here.


Bandura, A., Ross. D. & Ross S. (1963) Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 66(1) 3-11.

Elliott, J. (1968-2007). The Eye of the Storm. Retrieved September 1, 2007.

Milgram, S. (2003). Behavioural study of obedience. In Lesko, W. (ed). Readings in Social Psychology (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. pp. 242-252.

Myers, D. G. (2004). Psychology (7th ed). New York: Worth.

Burger, J. M. (2004) Personality (6th ed.) Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Baumeister, R.F., & Bushman, B.J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature (1st ed.) Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Zimbardo, P.G. (1994-2004). Stanford Prison Experiment; a simulation study of the psychology of inprinsonment conducted at the Stanford University. Retrieved September 1, 2007.

More links:
The Stanford Prison Experiment Homepage: click here
To watch a film on the Stanford Prison Experiment: click here
To view a Bandura's Bobo Dolls Video: click here
Milgram experiment reenactment: click here
To test your own stereotyping behaviour: click here