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Sensory overload

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Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body's senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. There are many environmental elements that impact an individual. Examples of these elements urbanization(WP), crowding, noise, mass media (WP), technology, and the explosive growth of information.[1] Sensory overload is commonly associated with sensory processing disorder.

Like its polar opposite sensory deprivation (WP), it has been used as a means of torture (WP);[2][3] most famously, in countless television and film scenes, bright lights in shown shone in the face of those to be interrogated. Sensory overload is part of the no-touch torture developed, used, and taught by the CIA and School of the Americas (WP)[4] Modern torture like that practiced at Guantanamo (WP) and in CIA-run or School of the Americas-taught prisons typically uses sound stimuli as well as light.

US Federal agents, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (Wikipedia:Waco siege), and the US Army in Panama (capture of Manuel Noriega), have used loud rock music to intimidate and disorient those they wish to apprehend, but are prevented from tackling directly, in standoffs.

Sensory overload techniques were used by some of the armed forces within NATO, as a means of interrogating prisoners within international treaty obligations.[5] The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the use of the Wikipedia:five techniques by British security forces in Northern Ireland amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment.

Overload was part of the British and American Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE)(WP) programs,[6] the findings of which were turned towards ways of perpetrating torture instead of withstanding it.[7]


There are a wide variety of symptoms that have been found to be associated with sensory overload. These symptoms can occur in both children and adults. Some of these symptoms are:


Sensory overload can result from the overstimulation of any of the senses.

  • Hearing: Loud noise or sound from multiple sources, such as several people talking at once.
  • Sight: Bright lights, strobing lights, or environments with lots of movement such as crowds or frequent scene changes on television.
  • Smell and Taste: Strong aromas or spicy foods.
  • Touch: Tactile sensations such as being touched by another person or the feel of cloth on skin.[9]

As component of other disordersEdit

Sensory overload has been found to be associated with other disorders such as:


There are many different ways to treat sensory overload. One way to reduce this tension is to participate in Wikipedia:occupational therapy; however, there are many ways for people with symptoms to reduce it themselves. Being able to identify one's own triggers of sensory overload can help reduce, eliminate, or avoid them.[12] Most often the quickest way to ease sensory overload symptoms is to remove oneself from the situation. Deep pressure against the skin combined with proprioceptive input that stimulates the receptors in the joints and ligaments often calms the nervous system. Reducing sensory input such as eliminating distressing sounds and lowering the lights can help. Calming, focusing music works for some. If a quick break does not relieve the problem, an extended rest is advised. People with Wikipedia:sensory processing issues may benefit from a sensory diet of activities and accommodations designed to prevent sensory overload and retrain the brain to process sensory input more typically. It is important in situations of sensory overload to calm oneself and return to a normal level.[9]


There are two different methods to prevent sensory overload: avoidance and setting limits. The process of avoidance involves creating a more quiet and orderly environment. This includes keeping the noise to a minimum and reducing the sense of clutter. To prevent sensory overload, it is important to rest before big events and focus your attention and energy on one thing at a time. Setting limits involves restricting the amount of time spent on various activities and selecting settings to carefully avoid crowds and noise. One may also limit interactions with specific people to help prevent sensory overload.[9]

Case historiesEdit

Not many studies have been done on sensory overload, but one example of a sensory overload study was reported by Lipowski (1975)[13] as part of his research review on the topic that discussed the work done by Japanese researchers at Wikipedia:Tohoku University. The Tohoku researchers exposed their subjects to intense visual and auditory stimuli presented randomly in a condition of confinement ranging in duration from 3 to 5 hours. Subjects showed heightened and sustained arousal as well as mood changes such as aggression, anxiety, and sadness. These results have helped open the door to further research on sensory overload.


Sociologist Wikipedia:Georg Simmel contributed to the description of sensory overload in the early 1900s. Writer of Wikipedia:The Metropolis and Mental Life, Simmel writes about an urban scenario of constantly appearing stimuli that trigger the brain’s senses. He writes about a barrier that must protect the individual from this constant stimulation in order to keep one sane. In short, Simmel concludes with stating that the urban life, full of its stimulations at different scenarios, provides excitement to our nervous system. The downside is that too much exposure of this sensory overload depletes the body’s energy reservoirs. Lacking the appropriate energy to react at new situations can form the bland mentality of an individual. A person’s mentality can be detrimental with a high degree of exposure of sensory overload. The raw reaction to new stimuli will be different when a person’s sensory experiences are overloaded (from past stimuli), compared to when they are not overloaded, the experience will be more pure.[14]

Torture Edit

Main article: Wikipedia:five techniques

The most recent and most prominent instance of the use of torture in interrogation is that of the American Wikipedia:CIA. After the defeat of the Fascists in World War II the CIA became both student and teacher of torture, propagating torture techniques worldwide to support anti-Communist regimes during the Wikipedia:Cold War.[15] The CIA adopted some Gestapo and KGB methods such as Wikipedia:waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of electric shock, and researched new ideas: so-called 'no-touch' torture involving sensory deprivation, self-inflicted pain, and psychological stress.[16] The CIA taught its refined techniques of torture through police and military training to American-supported regimes in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia during the bloody Wikipedia:Phoenix program, and throughout Latin America during Wikipedia:Operation Condor.[17] Torture also became widespread in some Asian nations and South Pacific nations, in Malasia, the Philippines and elsewhere, both for interrogation and to terrorize opponents of the regime. "In its pursuit of torturers across the globe for the past forty years," writer Alfred McCoy notes, "Amnesty International has been, in a certain sense, following the trail of CIA programs."[18]

After the revelation of CIA sponsored torture in the 1970s and the subsequent outcry, the CIA largely stopped its own interrogations under torture and throughout the 1980s and 1990s "outsourced" such interrogation through renditions of prisoners to third world allies, often called torture-by-proxy.[19] But in the furor over the attacks on 9/11 American authorities cast aside scruples,[20] legally authorizing some forms of interrogation by torture under euphemisms such as "Wikipedia:enhanced interrogation"[21] or "interrogation in depth"[22] to collect intelligence on Al Quaeda, starting in 2002.[23] Ultimately the CIA, the US military, and their contract employees tortured untold thousands at Wikipedia:Abu Ghraib, Wikipedia:Bagram, and secret black site prisons scatttered around the globe, according to a bipartisan U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee report.[24][25] Whether these interrogations under torture produced useful information is hotly debated.[26]

The administration of President Obama in 2009 prohibited so-called enhanced interrogation, and as of March 2012 there is no longer a nation which openly admits to deliberate abuse of prisoners for purposes of interrogation.[27][28]

The five techniques of wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink were used by the security forces in Wikipedia:Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. After the Parker Report of 1972 these techniques were formally abandoned by the United Kingdom as aids to the Wikipedia:interrogation of paramilitary suspects.

The Irish Government on behalf of the men who had been subject to the five methods took a case to the European Commission on Human Rights (Ireland v. United Kingdom, 1976 Y.B. Eur. Conv. on Hum. Rts. 512, 748, 788-94 (European Commission of Human Rights)). The Commission stated that it "considered the combined use of the five methods to amount to torture".[29][30] This consideration was overturned on appeal. In 1978 the Wikipedia:European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) examined the Wikipedia:United Nations' definition of torture, and subsequently ruled that the five techniques "did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture", however they did amount "to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment", which is in breach of the Wikipedia:European Convention on Human Rights, article 3.[31]

It their judgment[32] the court states that:

These methods, sometimes termed "disorientation" or "sensory deprivation" techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission's establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of:
(a) wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a Wikipedia:stress position, described by those who underwent it as being "spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers";
(b) hooding: putting a black or navy colored bag over the detainees' heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation;
(c) subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;
(d) deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep
(e) deprivation of food and drink: subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the center and pending interrogations.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 "What is Sensory Overload". 
  2. Effects of Psychological Torture
  3. Isolation, Sensory Deprivation & Sensory Overload
  4. [
  5. Jeffery, Keith (1985), The Divided province: the troubles in Northern Ireland, 1969-1985 (illustrated ed.), Orbis, p. 58, ISBN 856137995
  6. Sensory deprivation and overload
  7. Greenfield, P. (1977). CIA’s Behavior Caper. APA Monitor: 1, 10-11.
  8. "SPD & Psychopathology in Adults". Sharon Heller. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Sensory Overload: Sources and Strategies". CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Self-Help. 
  10. Template:Cite journal
  11. Template:Cite journal
  12. "Help for Adult SPD". SPD Support. 
  13. Template:Cite journal
  14. "The Metropolis and Mental Life". Modernism Lab Essays. 
  15. Template:Harv
  16. Template:Harv
  17. Template:Harv
  18. Template:Harv
  19. Template:Harv
  20. Froomkin, Dan (7 November 2005). "Cheney's Dark Side is Showing". Washington Post. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  21. "Transcript of interview with CIA director Panetta". MSNBC. 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2011-08-21. "E]nhanced interrogation has aways been a kind of handy euphemism (for torture)" 
  22. Template:Harv
  23. Template:Harv
  24. "Report by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Detainee Treatment". Retrieved 2014-04-23. 
  25. Template:Cite news (report linked to article)
  26. Will, George (1/11/2013). "Facing up to what we did in interrogations". Washington Post. Retrieved 12 January 2013. 
  27. "Obama: U.S. will not torture - politics - White House | NBC News". MSNBC. 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2014-04-23. 
  29. Security Detainees/Enemy Combatants: U.S. Law Prohibits Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Footnote 16
  30. David Weissbrodt materials on torture and other ill-treatment: 3. European Court of Human Rights (doc) html: Ireland v. United Kingdom, 1976 Y.B. European Convention on Human Rights. 512, 748, 788-94 (European Commission of Human Rights)
  31. Ireland v. the United Kingdom (1978), paragraph 167
  32. Ireland v. the United Kingdom (1978), paragraph 96

References Edit

Biderman, A. D. Z., Herbert, Eds. (1961). The Manipulation of Human Behavior. New York, John Wiley & Sons.

CIA. (1963). “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation.” Retrieved August 15, 2007, 2007, from….

CIA. (1983). “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual.” Retrieved July 30, 2007, from….

Goldberger, L. & Holt, R. R. (1961). A Comparison of Isolation Effects and their Personality Correlates in Two Divergent Samples. New York, Research Center for Mental Health, New York University: 1-52.

Grassian, S. (1983). “Psychopathological effects of solitary confinement.” American Journal of Psychiatry 140: 1450-1454.

Greenfield, P. (1977). CIA’s Behavior Caper. APA Monitor: 1, 10-11.

Hebb, D. O. (1970). “The Motivating Effects of Exteroceptive Stimulation.” American Psychologist 25(4): 328-336.

Lipowski, Z. J. (1975). “Sensory and Information Inputs Overload: Behavioral Effects.” Comprehensive Psychiatry 16(3): 199-221.

Moreno, J. D. (2006). Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense. New York Dana Press.

Ruff, G. E. L., Edwin Z.; & Thaler, Victor H. (1961). Factors Influencing Reactions to Reduced Sensory Input. Sensory Deprivation: A Symposium Held at Harvard Medical School. P. Solomon, et al. , Eds. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press: 72-90.

Solomon, P., Kubzansky, Philip E., Leiderman, P. Herbert, Mendelson, Jack H., Trumbull, Richard, & Wexler, Donald , Eds. (1961). Sensory Deprivation: A Symposium Held at Harvard Medical School. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Streatfeild, D. (2007). Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control. New York, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press.

Vernon, J., M. Meltzer, D. Tyler, Weinstein, E. A., Brozek, J., & Woolf, H. (1956). Factors Used to Increase the Susceptibility of Individuals to Forceful Indoctrination: Observations and Experiments. Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, Asbury Park, NJ, Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry.

Zubek, J. P., Ed. (1969). Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research. New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, educational division.

External links Edit

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