Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • - Imagine being confined

  • to a 10-by-10-foot room in complete isolation.

  • No timekeeping devices, no phones, no books,

  • nothing to write on, no windows.

  • [dramatic music]

  • ♪ ♪

  • Psychologists say that fewer than three days

  • in a room like this can lead to brain damage.

  • I will be staying in this room

  • for three days.

  • ♪ ♪

  • - Clearly, he is on the border of misery.

  • [electronic music]

  • ♪ ♪

  • - Even in a city surrounded by people,

  • it's possible to feel lonely

  • or bored.

  • Your brain is like a hungry sponge.

  • It's constantly absorbing information.

  • It thrives when stimulated.

  • Between smartphones and books

  • and movies and friends and family,

  • thousands of sensations

  • are constantly going into our heads.

  • But what if it all got cut off?

  • [dramatic music]

  • ♪ ♪

  • What is boredom?

  • Well, it's believed to be an emotion

  • that's a less intense form of disgust.

  • A visual representation of emotions

  • developed by Robert Plutchik

  • shows them all on a wheel.

  • Notice that boredom shares a spoke

  • with disgust and loathing.

  • They are different intensities of the same emotion.

  • You see, boredom pushes us away from low-stimulus situations

  • because variety and stimulation

  • literally lead to neurogenesis--

  • brain-cell growth.

  • We are here today doing what we do

  • because boredom has guided us

  • toward greater and greater challenges

  • and bigger and more complex brains.

  • So what is it like to be deprived

  • of the sensations and social interactions

  • so many of us take for granted?

  • ♪ ♪

  • A landmark study at Harvard and Virginia Universities

  • found that students prefer to experience physical pain

  • over 15 minutes of boredom.

  • To demonstrate the surprising lengths

  • people will go to to avoid boredom,

  • we brought in an unsuspecting subject

  • for what he believes to be a focus group.

  • We begin by introducing a set of stimuli,

  • one of which is very unpleasant.

  • [device buzzes] - Oh, shit.

  • - What? - Shocked the shit out of me.

  • Touch it.

  • [device buzzes] - [grunts]

  • It did shock me. - No, it didn't.

  • Did it really? - Yeah, it did.

  • - He doesn't like it. - That really shocked me.

  • - Our fake focus test continues.

  • - So let's start with the shock button.

  • Jamison, would you choose to experience this again?

  • - I don't want to do that again.

  • - Why wouldn't you?

  • - 'Cause it shocked me,

  • and I can still feel it going down my forearm.

  • - Now it's time for Jamison's true test--

  • the test of boredom.

  • - You will be in the room for 30 minutes.

  • Please remain in your chair.

  • Feel free to re-experience the electric-shock button...

  • - Okay. Okay. - Or not.

  • - All right, the moment of truth.

  • [door closes]

  • When the only two options are boredom or painful shock,

  • which will our subject choose?

  • He's not even looking at the button.

  • Oh.

  • It hasn't even been a minute yet,

  • and already Jamison is restless.

  • [pensive music]

  • With 29 minutes to go

  • and no other stimulation in the room,

  • the shock button is a tempting object

  • to occupy Jamison's mind.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Remember what Jamison said a few minutes ago.

  • - I don't want to do that again.

  • - But will he desire stimulation so strongly,

  • he just goes ahead and pushes that button?

  • ♪ ♪

  • [device buzzes] - [grunts]

  • - It took exactly one minute and 57 seconds of boredom

  • for Jamison's mind to go from, "Never again,"

  • to "Sure, I'll give myself an electric shock

  • to relieve boredom."

  • Sometimes stimulation, any stimulation

  • is perceived as better than none at all.

  • This guy doesn't like being bored.

  • Can he resist touching it a second time?

  • [dramatic music]

  • ♪ ♪

  • [device buzzes] - [grunts, laughing]

  • - We're social animals.

  • Whether it's another human

  • or a volleyball or an electric-shock button,

  • you'll make friends with whatever you need to.

  • Jamison? I'm Michael.

  • Thanks for coming in today. - Sure.

  • - So tell me a little bit

  • about what you've been up to here in this room.

  • - I've been sitting in this room with a button.

  • - Yeah. - And despite saying

  • I didn't want to press it again, I pressed it twice.

  • - Why?

  • - I was just bored in this room, I suppose, so...

  • - Really? - Yeah.

  • - Did that hurt? - Yes.

  • - The hypothesis is that when left alone

  • with a very negative stimulus,

  • people will go ahead an re-experience it

  • just because it's something to do.

  • - I'm one of them. - [laughs]

  • We dislike being bored so much,

  • sometimes physical pain is preferable.

  • But intentionally putting yourself

  • into what would seem to be

  • the most boring environment possible

  • can be useful.

  • It's called sensory deprivation.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Psychologists have conducted experiments

  • in sensory deprivation since the 1930s.

  • During the Cold War,

  • the military used sensory deprivation

  • for both training and interrogation.

  • In the 1970s, the activity became recreational,

  • with soundproof, lightproof flotation tanks

  • that keep you buoyant with salt water

  • that is the same temperature as your body.

  • ♪ ♪

  • All right, so I'm on my way to a subterranean float lab.

  • This company sells sensory deprivation.

  • This will be sort of a training session

  • for my three days in isolation,

  • and I'm getting guidance from an expert.

  • Hey, Dominic. How are you?

  • - Hey. What's up, Michael?

  • - You know Dominic Monaghan

  • from "Lord of the Rings" and the TV series "Lost."

  • - Now, this is your first time, right?

  • - This is my first time.

  • I'm a little nervous.

  • I've never been alone without any stimulation.

  • - One of my favorite things about floating is,

  • there's nothing else going on.

  • - Okay. - You can't see anything.

  • You can't hear anything. You can't do anything.

  • You just have to look at you.

  • And for some people, that's scary.

  • It's like looking in a mirror for hours.

  • This flotation tank is a really good way

  • of getting him prepped for the isolation chamber,

  • but I also think he needs to be okay with the fact

  • that it's gonna put him outside of his comfort zone.

  • The mind is a good thing to lose every so often.

  • - All right, let's take a peek.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Oh. So this is the room.

  • This is where I will be floating for the next hour,

  • alone with nothing to do but listen to my thoughts.

  • ♪ ♪

  • I'll see you on the other side.

  • ♪ ♪

  • - The mind is a good thing to lose every so often.

  • You have to remind fear that you're in the driver's seat."

  • - Hey. - Hey, Dominic.

  • - How was it? - It was really good.

  • - Yeah? - Can we sit down?

  • - Yeah, let's do it.

  • - My initial thought when I laid down was,

  • "Wow, this is buoyant."

  • And then I just...

  • started thinking about errands and tasks,

  • but at some point...

  • well, it was like dreams.

  • - Uh-huh.

  • - But my eyes were open.

  • Like, it was sort of like half-dreams you have

  • either when you're about to fall asleep

  • or when you're waking up.

  • - That's when it gets interesting.

  • You're allowing your brain to be free.

  • You're just floating in space.

  • You're just atoms that are on the top of this pool,

  • floating in space.

  • So now you've done this,

  • and you're doing this isolation booth.

  • Do you think that that was in some way helpful

  • or a hindrance?

  • - It made me more...

  • unhappy about what's coming up.

  • 72 hours is quite a bit different than one hour.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Some people choose isolation

  • to learn about isolation.

  • As we prepare to explore other planets,

  • we're faced with a little issue.

  • Stuff in outer space is really,

  • really far apart.

  • Within our own solar system,

  • even a trip to Mars would take months

  • in each direction.

  • That's a long time to spend cut off from the rest of humanity,

  • stuck in a tiny spaceship.

  • To get ready for those journeys, we have subjected some people

  • to extreme conditions here on Earth.

  • In 1989, a young Italian interior designer

  • named Stefania Follini

  • volunteered for a NASA experiment

  • to help study the effects of isolation

  • associated with space travel.

  • She spent 130 days alone

  • in a plexiglass cell

  • in a cave 30 feet underground in New Mexico.

  • In the absence of timepieces and any sign of day or night,

  • Ms. Follini's body was thrown out of wack.

  • Her menstrual cycle stopped,

  • and her sleep-wake cycle changed radically.

  • She tended to stay away for 20 to 25 hours at a time,

  • sleeping about 10 hours.

  • When she finally emerged,

  • she mistakenly believed

  • she'd only been underground about half as long

  • as she actually had.

  • As difficult as Stefania's experience was,

  • at least she had books to read.

  • In my isolation chamber,

  • I will only have white walls to stare at.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Alone time-- what a pleasure.

  • Checking out, getting away from it all,

  • relaxing...

  • banishment from society,

  • the silent treatment,

  • solitary confinement.

  • [dramatic music]

  • Solitude isn't always nice.

  • ♪ ♪

  • What happens when isolation

  • is not voluntary?

  • William Brown has firsthand knowledge

  • of solitary confinement.

  • So, William, how much of your life

  • have you spent in prison?