Changes in body image following sensory deprivation in schizophrenic and control groups



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This study was an investigation of body image changes in schizophrenic and non-psychotic patients who were subjected to as much as four hours of sensory deprivation. The subjects were 20 schizophrenic and 20 non-psychotic VA psychiatric patients. They were placed individually in a quiet observation room where they lay on a hospital bed with a foam rubber mattress. Their eyes were covered by a pair of translucent goggles; a long strip of foam rubber was fixed between their legs; they wore loose fitting cotton gloves; cardboard gauntlets encased their arms from above the elbow to below the finger tips; and a white noise generator provided a 76 db white noise which served both as an unvarying, constant auditory stimuli, and as an adequate masking tone for the minimal hospital sounds that might have otherwise penetrated to the room. Subjects wore tested before and after this isolation period with a test battery consisting of measures devised to assess changes in various modalities, in perceived sensitivity to and definiteness of body image boundaries. A special control group consisting of 20 schizophrenics were also administered this pre-post-test battery without an intervening period of isolation. This group demonstrated no change in any measure from pre-post evaluation. However, there were a considerable number of significant changes observed for the two experimental groups. Although there are certain inconsistencies in the data, the findings strongly support the initial general hypothesis. That is, the findings clearly demonstrate that, following S-D, there are selective differences in the body image alterations of schizophrenics and non-psychotics. More specifically, after S-D, schizophrenics show a marked increase in somesthetic sensitivity, indicative of a greater awareness of their body periphery; their estimates of perceived body size decrease significantly; and the changes in their barrier and penetration scores point to a firming up of body boundaries. For non-psychotics, an opposite trend in body image changes is noted. After exposure to S-D, non-psychotics perceive the size of their body parts in a significantly more grandiose and expansive manner; they are less sensitive to somesthetic stimuli; their fantasies (inferred from Holtzman Inkblot Technique responses) reflect a decreased delineation of their body boundaries and an increased feeling of vulnerability and disruption of the body image. There was, however, no change for either group in their perception of the size of neutral objects, (i.e., a 12 inch line and a photograph of a baseball). Thus the results do not seem to be interpretable in terms of an overall general shift in perception. Instead, it appears that the effects of S-D were of a selective nature. In the author's opinion, the present findings concerning body image changes in the schizophrenic group can be understood only if one regards S-D as an experience providing the schizophrenic patient with the opportunity for some degree of reorganisation to take place. In S-D the schizophrenic is spared the usual input of stimuli which he has found in his life experience to be so confusing and disorganizing. During S-D the schizophrenic is provided a uniform, non-threatening pattern of stimuli which, so to speak, offers him a chance to 'pull himself together.' For the non-psychotic, S-D appears to be a disorganizing experience. Normal incoming stimuli useful in orienting and determining one's body boundaries are diminished. In consequence, perceived body boundaries are rendered vague and limitless. The present study is seen to provide reasonably definitive new findings in the growing research areas of sensory deprivation and body imagery.



Body image, Schizophrenia