Previous studies have shown that misperceptions and illusory experiences can occur if sensory stimulation is withdrawn or becomes invariant even for short periods of time. Using a perceptual deprivation paradigm, we created a monotonous audiovisual environment and asked participants to verbally report any auditory, visual or body-related phenomena they experienced. The data (analysed using a variant of interpretative phenomenological analysis) revealed two main themes: (1) reported sensory phenomena have different spatial characteristics ranging from simple percepts to the feeling of immersion in a complex multisensory environment and (2) the active contribution of the perceiver where participants report engaging in exploratory processes even when there is nothing to find. Detailed analysis of the qualitative data further showed that participants who reported more perceptual phenomena were more likely to report internal bodily sensations, move more during the experiment and score higher on the Revised Hallucination Scale than those reporting fewer percepts explicitly linking perceptual deprivation to somatic phenomena. The results demonstrate how the variety of sensory experiences induced by perceptual deprivation can give further insight into the factors mediating conscious awareness and may suggest ways in which the brain imposes meaning on the environment under invariant sensory conditions.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Allen, P., Larøi, F., McGuire, P. K., & Aleman, A. (2008). The hallucinating brain: a review of structural and functional neuroimaging studies of hallucinations. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 32, 175–191.
Atkinson, J. R. (2006). The perceptual characteristics of voice-hallucinations in deaf people: insights into the nature of subvocal thought and sensory feedback loops. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 32, 701–708.
Banks, J. (2001). Rorschach audio: ghost voices and perceptual creativity. Leonardo Music Journal, 11, 77–83.
Bar, M., Kassam, K. S., Ghuman, A. S., Boshyan, J., Schmid, A. M., Dale, A. M., et al. (2006). Top-down facilitation of visual recognition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 449–454.
Barnes, J., & David, A. S. (2001). Visual hallucinations in Parkinson’s disease: a review and phenomenological survey. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 70, 727–733.
Bentall, R. P., & Slade, P. D. (1985). Reality testing and auditory hallucinations: a signal detection analysis. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 24, 159–169.
Bexton, W. H., Heron, W., & Scott, T. H. (1954). Effects of decreased variation in the sensory environment. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 8, 70–76.
Burney, C. (1952). Solitary confinement. New York: Coward-McCann.
Downar, J., Crawley, A. P., Mikulis, D. J., & Davis, K. D. (2000). A multimodal cortical network for the detection of changes in the sensory environment. Nature Neuroscience, 3, 277–283.
Dyson, M. (1999). Intensive care unit psychosis, the therapeutic nurse–patient relationship and the influence of the intensive care setting: analyses of interrelating factors. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 8, 284–290.
Elbers, N., Geraerts, E., & van Heerden, J. (2007). Hallucinating consistency. Theory & Psychology, 17, 587–602.
Feelgood, S. R., & Rantzen, A. J. (1994). Auditory and visual hallucinations in university students. Personality and Individual Differences, 17, 293–296.
Ffytche, D. H., & Howard, R. J. (1999). The perceptual consequences of visual loss: ‘positive’ pathologies of vision. Brain, 122, 1247–1260.
Fiske, D. (1961). Effects of monotonous and restricted stimulation. In D. W. Fiske & S. R. Maddi (Eds.), Functions of varied experience (pp. 106–144). Homewood, IL: Dorsey.
Freedman, S. J., Grunebaum, H. U., & Greenblatt, M. (1961). Perceptual and cognitive changes in sensory deprivation. In P. Solomon, P. E. Kubzansky, P. H. Liederman, J. H. Mendelson, R. Trumbull, & D. Wexler (Eds.), Sensory deprivation: a symposium held at Harvard Medical School (pp. 58–71). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Gallagher, S. (1997). Mutual enlightenment: recent phenomenology in cognitive science. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4, 195–214.
Haber, W. B. (1955). Reactions to loss of limb: physiological and psychological aspects. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 74, 14–24.
Hayashi, M., & Hiroshima, U. (1992). EEG alpha activity and hallucinatory experience during sensory deprivation. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 75, 403–412.
Heron, W. (1957). The pathology of boredom. Scientific American, 196, 52–56.
Heron, W. (1965). Cognitive and physiological effects of perceptual isolation. In P. Solomon, P. E. Kubzansky, P. H. Liederman, J. H. Mendelson, R. Trumbull, & D. Wexler (Eds.), Sensory deprivation: a symposium held at Harvard Medical School (pp. 6–33). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Heron, W., Doane, B. K., & Scott, T. H. (1956). Visual disturbances after prolonged perceptual deprivation. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 10, 13–18.
Hunter, J. P., Katz, J., & Davis, K. D. (2005). Dissociation of phantom limb phenomena from stump tactile spatial acuity and sensory thresholds. Brain, 128, 308–320.
Husserl, E. (2005). Phantasy, image consciousness, and memory (1898–1925). Dordrecht: Springer. Translated by J. B. Brough.
Jackson, C. W., Jr., Pollard, J. C., & Kansky, E. W. (1962). The application of findings from experimental sensory deprivation to cases of clinical sensory deprivation. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 243, 558–563.
Jakes, S., & Hemsley, D. R. (1986). Individual differences in reaction to brief exposure to unpatterned visual stimulation. Personality and Individual Differences, 7, 121–123.
Launay, G., & Slade, P. (1981). The measurement of hallucinatory predisposition in male and female prisoners. Personality and Individual Differences, 2, 221–234.
Lewis, E., & Lloyd, D. M. (2010). Embodied experience: a first-person investigation of the rubber hand illusion. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 9, 317–339.
Marbach, E. (1993). Mental representation and consciousness: towards a phenomenological theory of representation and reference. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
McClamrock, R. (1995). Existential cognition: computational minds in the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Merabet, L. B., Maguire, D., Warde, A., Alterescu, K., Stickgold, R., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2004). Visual hallucinations during prolonged blindfolding in sighted subjects. Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology, 24, 109–113.
Merabet, L. B., Rizzo, J. F., Amedi, A., Somers, D. C., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2005). What blindness can tell us about seeing again: merging neuroplasticity and neuroprostheses. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6, 71–77.
Morrison, A. P., Wells, A., & Nothard, S. (2002). Cognitive and emotional predictors of predisposition to hallucinate in non-patients. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 41, 259–270.
Pierre, J. M. (2010). Hallucinations in nonpsychotic disorders: toward a differential diagnosis of “hearing voices”. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 18, 22–35.
Pütz, P., Braeunig, M., & Wackermann, J. (2006). EEG correlates of multimodal ganzfeld induced hallucinatory imagery. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 61, 167–178.
Reed, G. F. (1979). Sensory deprivation. In G. Underwood & R. Stevens (Eds.), Aspects of consciousness: clinical issues. New York: Academic.
Sartre, J.-P. (2004). The imaginary: a phenomenological psychology of the imaginary. London: Routledge.
Scott, T. H., Bexton, W. H., Heron, W., & Doane, B. K. (1959). Cognitive effects of perceptual isolation. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 13, 200–209.
Shultz, D. P. (1965). Sensory restriction. New York: Academic.
Slade, P. D. (1984). Sensory deprivation and clinical psychiatry. British Journal of Hospital Medicine, 32, 256–260.
Smith, J. A. (1995). Semi-structured interviewing and qualitative analysis. In J. Smith, R. Harre, & L. V. Langenhove (Eds.), Rethinking methods in psychology. London: SAGE.
Smith, J. A. (1996). Beyond the divide between cognition and discourse: using interpretative phenomenological analysis in health psychology. Psychology and Health, 11, 261–271.
Smith, J. A., & Osborn, M. (2003). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In J. A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative psychology: a practical guide to methods. London: Sage.
Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Osborn, M. (1997). Interpretative phenomenological analysis and the psychology of health and illness. In L. Yardley (Ed.), Material discourses of health and illness. London: Routledge.
Spielberger, C. D., Gorusch, R. L., Lushene, R., Vagg, P. R., & Jacobs, G. A. (1983). Manual for the State–Trait Anxiety Inventory. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychology Press.
Strahan, R., & Gerbasi, K. C. (1972). Short, homogeneous versions of the Marlowe–Crowne Social Desirability Scale. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 28, 191–193.
Varela, F. (1996). Neurophenomenology: a methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3, 330–349.
Wackermann, J., Pütz, P., Büchi, S., Strauch, I., & Lehmann, D. (2002). Brain electrical activity and subjective experience during altered states of consciousness: ganzfeld and hypnagogic states. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 46, 123–146.
Wackermann, J., Pütz, P., & Allefeld, C. (2008). Ganzfeld-induced hallucinatory experience, its phenomenology and cerebral electrophysiology. Cortex, 44, 1364–1378.
Young, H. F., Bentall, R. P., Slade, P. D., & Dewey, B. A. (1987). The role of brief instructions and suggestibility in the elicitation of auditory and visual hallucinations in normal and psychiatric subjects. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 175, 41–48.
Zubek, J. P. (1969). Sensory deprivation: fifteen years of research. New York: Appleton.
Zuckerman, M. (1964). Perceptual isolation as a stress situation. A review. Archives of General Psychiatry, 11, 225–276.
Zuckerman, M. (1969). Variables affecting deprivation results. In: J P Zubek (ed), Sensory deprivation: fifteen years of research. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Zuckerman, M., & Cohen, N. (1964). Sources of reports of visual and auditory sensations in perceptual-isolation experiments. Psychological Bulletin, 62, 1–20.
Zusne, L., & Jones, W. H. (1989). Anomalistic psychology: a study of magical thinking. Hillsdale: Erlbaum. pp. 77–79.
The authors wish to thank Samantha Rowbotham for help with data collection and Martin Farrell for comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.
About this article
Cite this article
Lloyd, D.M., Lewis, E., Payne, J. et al. A qualitative analysis of sensory phenomena induced by perceptual deprivation. Phenom Cogn Sci 11, 95–112 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-011-9233-z
- Interpretative phenomenological analysis
- Perceptual deprivation