Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Big Brother's Torture Room

Clearly if the Age can use sensationalist headlines like this on the front page of their paper so can I on my blog!

Was reading the paper on Sunday and came across this article by one of last year's BB contestants, who I think was one of the turkey-slappers, but that aside, has written a very interesting article here.

Had a conversation about it with a good friend, who asked, having just read that article, would I still apply for Big Brother? Was a tough question, as there's something about the idea of being on the show that I still really love, it would just be such a different experience to anything else. I'd like to think I'm psychologically stable enough to handle whatever they throw at me, but who knows?

Some of the comparisons in the article to other sensory deprivation tactics are fairly full on, but they do show the extreme effects this kind of treatment could have. Had another interesting chat with a friend who's a psychologist, who was also questioning the ethics of such a situation as the 'White Room'. I don't watch the show so I don't know how it's panned out.

DIETARY manipulation, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, temporal confusion, stress positions and soundproofed isolation. Guantanamo Bay? No, just another episode of Big Brother. Last year, after countless hours locked in a soundproof isolation booth on the set of the Channel Ten series as one of the housemates, I suddenly realised I was being subjected to subtle psychological pressures.

The latest series of the Big Brother juggernaut is using even more extreme forms of "sensory deprivation" that could easily cross an invisible line into psychological torture.

This year, the producers gave four would-be contestants not initially selected for the show a back door into the house, a second chance to compete. All they had to do was to sit for days in the timeless, windowless "white room", dressed in white, under white-light fluorescent bulbs, fed tasteless, vitamin-enriched white porridge and wrapped in white noise. Until one was left.

The experiment's first findings were published in 1954 in the Canadian Journal of Psychology, revealing how easy it was to disrupt the brain's basic functioning. Offering the incentive of double the minimum daily wage to take part in the study, Hebb had recruited 22 male university students who were required only to "lie … in a lighted cubicle 24 hours a day with all sensory stimuli muted — light diffused by translucent goggles, auditory stimulation limited by soundproofing and constant low noise, and tactual perception blocked by thick gloves and a U-shaped foam pillow about the head".

In three days, most had pulled out, with many refusing to finish the experiment. All who participated experienced extreme hallucinations similar to the effects of the powerful drug mescaline.

In effect, Hebb's study revealed that the brain's basic equilibrium could be seriously disrupted by reducing sensory stimulus. Or, as he put it, after just two to three days of such isolation, "the subject's very identity had begun to disintegrate". What Hebb did not say was that one of the 22 volunteers who emerged seemingly in good spirits soon suffered a complete breakdown and remained seriously disturbed even 10 years later.

Big Brother's white room had some disturbing parallels with Hebb's cubicle, particularly in its systematic reduction of sensory stimulus. To the traditional five senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and sound) another must be added: the perception of time. If Hebb could induce an effect "akin to acute psychosis" among his student subjects by targeting three senses (sight, sound and touch), what will happen, in the next months and years, to the would-be Big Brother contestants who had sight, sound, taste and time similarly targeted?

Even to a casual viewer, the psychological effects of the white room became apparent. One housemate said he could see one of the girls rocking back and forth, and believed she had gone crazy. Whether his report was true is hard to know.

Very interesting stuff...


Jono said...

It does seem like Big Brother is psychologically annoying, but maybe it's not as bad as it has been made out to be, here.
Anyway, I'm not sure where I stand on this. I don't actually know whether I'd like to go into Big Brother or not. Probably not, but that's just me.

kat said...

I've always imagined that there was a legion of social/psycological experts having a hand in big brother, or at least just looking on with access to all the stuff you and i don't see.

i can't imagine them doing big brother without this. it would almost be a waste of the opportunity.

there's a lot about big brother that i find intriguing, but i couldn't handle the lack of privacy.