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The use of sensory deprivation in a programme of weight control Borrie, Roderick Allen

Abstract

Sensory deprivation has been used in a number of clinical contexts either as a form of therapy by itself or in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques. The characteristics of increasing persuasibility and receptivity to therapeutic input make sensory deprivation an attractive tool for many varieties of behaviour change. In past research sensory deprivation has been used in the treatment of poor self image, autism, phobias, and smoking. This study was designed to extend previous research in which sensory deprivation was used to successfully moderate or eliminate health endangering behavior. In the research on smoking the technique was used in conjunction with appropriate messages to help psychologically addicted smokers to stop smoking (Suedfeld, 1973). The present project applied the sensory deprivation technique to the problem of obesity caused by overeating. The design was a 2 x 2 factorial with the major variables being (1) sensory deprivation (SD) versus non-confinement (NC), and (2) therapeutic messages (M) versus no messages (NM). Subjects were 39 female volunteers between the ages of 20 and 56 who responded to announcements of an experimental weight loss programme. The subjects were assigned to one of the four experimental groups which were equated for weight, age, and marital status. Sensory deprivation consisted of lying in a dark, quiet chamber for 24 hours; the messages consisted of two sets of communications concerning weight loss. The first set of messages was concerned with body orientation, relaxation, and controlling urges; the second set dealt with specific behavioural self-control techniques. The group which received both sensory deprivation and messages heard the messages during their stay in sensory deprivation. Following the experimental treatment, all subjects were given a standard diet manual and standardized instructions in its use. Subjects were seen periodically over the following six months. The weight loss data at six months show a significant interaction between sensory deprivation and message. The combined treatment (SDM mean = 5.87 Kg) was superior to the other three groups (SDNM mean = 1.08 Kg, NCM mean = .67 Kg, NCNM mean = 2.36 Kg). There were no significant changes in skinfold measurements. The weight loss data at two months showed a significant message effect with those who heard the messages losing 3.14 Kg versus 1.23 Kg for those who did not. Weight loss over the final four months showed a condition effect with those who had sensory deprivation losing 1.58 Kg, while the nonconfined subjects gained .98 Kg. These results are discussed in terms of the motivating characteristics of sensory deprivation. When various demographic and behavioural data were regressed on weight change, three significant predictors emerged. The facts were that the more difficulty the subject anticipated, the more weight she lost; the stronger her motive to please her spouse, the less weight she lost; and the more she was concerned with eating slowly, the more weight she lost. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for future treatments of obesity. The present study is also discussed in comparison with other sensory deprivation studies and other obesity treatment studies.

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