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Plutchik, R. (1964). Inside the Black Room. By Jack A. Vernon. New York: Potter, 1963. Psychoanal. Rev., 51C(3):196-197.

(1964). Psychoanalytic Review, 51C(3):196-197

Inside the Black Room. By Jack A. Vernon. New York: Potter, 1963

Review by:
Robert Plutchik

This book is a simply written account for the general reader of a series of researches that have been in progress at Princeton University since 1954 on the effects of sensory deprivation (or S.D.). Because of the relative scarcity of previous research in this area most of the things that were tried were done on an “I wonder what would happen …” basis. The conclusions are limited by the fact that almost all of the subjects were volunteer male, graduate students at Princeton, ranging in age from 20 to 32; each was paid 20 dollars a day for participating. The confinement periods in a completely black, soundproofed room varied from 24 to 96 hours. Sandwiches, soup and water were provided as well as toilet facilities, all within the black room. A “panic” button was provided so that the subject could indicate if he wished to leave before the confinement period was over.

Some familiar and some unfamiliar things were found. For example, there was a tendency for suggestibility (as measured by a sway test) to increase with an increase in the time spent in S.D. There was also a definite tendency for subjects to underestimate the duration of time they had spent in the black room. Half of the subjects complained of difficulty in thinking in that their thoughts “got out of control,” while two out of three lost their ability to concentrate.

With regard to the effect of S.D. on learning, it was found to improve the learning of simple memory tasks (learning lists of eight words); it had no effect on tasks of moderate difficulty (learning lists of 15 words) and it impaired complex learning (concept-formation tasks).

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