From Think Progress
Solitary confinement has been called a “living death,” cruel and unusual, and torture. Studies of the prison practice of placing inmates in a solitary, often concrete windowless cell for 23 hours a day with almost no human contact, have found that the psychological impact is dramatic after just a few days.
A University of Michigan neuroscientist suggested Friday that the physical impact on the brain could be just as significant if not moreso, and could “dramatically change the brain” in just a matter of days. Speaking on a panel about solitary confinement, neuroscientist Huda Akil said inaccess to inmates has prevented much formal study on brain changes while held in confinement. But she said a number of other studies have documented how each of the factors involved in solitary confinement change the physical shape of the brain. The lack of physical interaction with the natural world, the lack of social interaction, and the lack of touch and visual stimulation alone are each “by itself is sufficient to dramatically change the brain,” Akil said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.
She said particular parts of the brain that are subject to extreme stress can “actually shrink,” including the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, spatial orientation, and control of emotions. (more…)