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This article is about the use of sensory deprivation in interrogation. For general review of research in the area see Sensory deprivation. For its therapeutic use see Isolation tank

Sensory deprivation is the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli from one or more of the senses. Simple devices such as blindfolds or hoods and earmuffs can cut off sight and hearing respectively, while more complex devices can also cut off the sense of smell, touch, taste, thermoception (heat-sense), and 'gravity'. Sensory deprivation has been used in various alternative medicines and in psychological experiments (e.g., see Isolation tank), and for torture or punishment.[dubious]

Though short periods of sensory deprivation can be relaxing, extended deprivation can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and antisocial behavior.[1][dubious]

The five sensory deprivation techniques[edit | edit source]

The five techniques of: wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink were used by the security forces in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. After the Parker Report of 1972 these techniques were formally abandoned by the United Kingdom as aids the interrogation of paramilatary suspects.

The Irish Government on behalf of the men who had been subject to the five methods took a case to the European Commission on Human Rights (Ireland v. United Kingdom, 1976 Y.B. Eur. Conv. on Hum. Rts. 512, 748, 788-94 (Eur. Comm’n of Hum. Rts.)). The Commision stated that it "considered the combined use of the five methods to amount to torture"[2][3].This consideration was overturned on appeal. In 1978 in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) trial "Ireland v. the United Kingdom" ruled that the five techniques "did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture ... [but] amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment", in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is on record in the ECHR judgement[4] that:

  • These methods, sometimes termed "disorientation" or "sensory deprivation" techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission's establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of:
  • (a) wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a "stress position", described by those who underwent it as being "spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers";
  • (b) hooding: putting a black or navy coloured bag over the detainees' heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation;
  • (c) subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;
  • (d) deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep;
  • (e) deprivation of food and drink: subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.

Other views regarding sensory deprivation[edit | edit source]

In 1986 United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has listed "sensory deprivation" among the techniques constituting torture[5]. Other groups, such as the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights[6], for example, lists sensory deprivation as a type of "mental torture"[7].

Modern application[edit | edit source]

Modern methods and tools for applying the 5 basic techniques have changed somewhat since their original inception.

  • Acoustic earmuffs are sometimes placed on a subject which are then used to isolate the subject from outside sounds. Often this is done with the production of loud music, ringing or static noises, or anything that estranges the subject from the sounds in their environment.
  • Sometimes an isolation chamber is used. A subject is sometimes locked in a room with no windows. The source of light in the room is turned on, or off, at either regular, but abnormal intervals, or for random periods of time. The intent is to eliminate the subject's accurate perception of day and night, remove the subject from social interaction, and disrupt regular biological patterns such as sleep. This method is often accompanied by meals being presented at unusual times of day, and at abnormal intervals to further the effect.

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

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