A qualitative analysis of sensory phenomena induced by perceptual deprivation

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that misperceptions and illusory experiences can occur if sensory stimulation is withdrawn or becomes invariant even for short periods of time.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.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Samantha Rowbotham for help with data collection and Martin Farrell for comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth Lewis.

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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

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Keywords

  • Auditory
  • Ganzfeld
  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • Misperception
  • Perceptual deprivation
  • Visual