Examining the Effects of Reduced Environmental Stimulation on the Brain

Conditions:Anxiety, Anxiety
Therapuetic Areas:Psychiatry / Psychology
Age Range:18 - 55
Start Date:May 2015
End Date:December 2019
Contact:Krielle Pantino

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The studies proposed in this protocol aim to explore the anxiolytic properties of floating as
it relates to the central and autonomic nervous system.

The human brain is constantly bombarded with sensory information from the external world.
This series of studies aim to explore the effects of reducing environmental stimulation using
specially designed floatation pools that minimize visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive,
and thermal input to the brain. Previous research has shown that "floating" in this unique
setting can significantly reduce levels of anxiety, stress, blood pressure, and cortisol,
while significantly increasing levels of both subjective and physiological forms of
relaxation. Much of this past research contained various methodological weaknesses, including
small sample sizes, lack of a control group, and no longitudinal follow-up. Moreover, very
little is known about the potential benefits of floating in clinical populations, and
essentially nothing is known about the effects of floating on the brain. The studies proposed
in this protocol aim to further explore floating's potentially salubrious effect on the
autonomic nervous system, while beginning to investigate its largely unknown effect on the
central nervous system. The researchers have attempted to improve upon the weaknesses of past
research by using larger sample sizes, a control group, and a longitudinal design. The
current project is focused on documenting the subjective, behavioral, physiological and
neural effects of floating in healthy and anxious populations. The subjective effects of
floating will be examined using self-report measures and the experience sampling method. The
behavioral effects of floating will be examined using measures of interoceptive awareness and
distress tolerance. The physiological effects of floating will be examined using waterproof
and wireless tracking of blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and movement, in addition
to collecting measures of cortisol and magnesium. A portable electroencephalography (EEG)
system will be used to measure sleep during the nights before and after a float experience.
The neural effects of floating will be examined using waterproof and wireless EEG collected
during the float experience, as well as using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
collected before and immediately after floating. Using a longitudinal within-subject design,
the researchers have a unique opportunity to assess not only functional brain changes, but
also structural brain changes induced by repeated exposures to floating. An active control
condition aims to control for the effects of simple relaxation by collecting all of the same
measures while participants lay supine in a zero-gravity chair situated in a quiet, dimly lit
room. This program of research constitutes the first systematic investigation of floating on
the body and the brain, and the findings have the potential to illuminate the physiological
and neural correlates of the deep relaxation induced by the floating experience.

Inclusion Criteria:

1. Participants must be between 18-55 years of age, free of any current or past
neurological or psychiatric illness, and capable of performing all tasks during each
session of the experiment.

2. They must be able to provide written informed consent and must have sufficient
proficiency in the English language to understand and complete interviews,
questionnaires, and all other study procedures.

Exclusion Criteria:

1. Participant meets criteria for a DSM5 Axis-1 disorder.

2. Participant endorses current suicidal ideation with intent or plan.

3. Participant fails to adhere to our "Pre-float checklist".

4. Participant is morbidly obese (BMI > 40).

5. Certain drugs or medications consumed within the past week including any psychoactive
drugs (e.g., benzodiazepines, opiates, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,
dopamine agonists, barbiturates, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, peyote, phencyclidine,
ketamine). For all other medications, we require the participant to be stably
medicated prior to participation (defined as having taken the medication for 6 weeks
or longer).

6. Participant has a history of unstable liver or renal insufficiency; glaucoma;
diabetes; significant and unstable cardiac, vascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal,
endocrine, neurologic, hematologic, rheumatologic, or metabolic disturbance; or any
other condition that, in the opinion of the investigator, would make participation not
be in the best interest (e.g., compromise the well-being) of the subject or that could
prevent, limit, or confound the protocol-specified assessments.

7. Pregnancy as detected by a urine test.

8. Non-correctable vision or hearing problems.

9. MRI contraindications including: cardiac pacemaker, metal fragments in eyes/skin/body
(shrapnel), aortic/aneurysm clips, prosthesis, by-pass surgery/coronary artery clips,
hearing aid, heart valve replacement, shunt (ventricular or spinal), electrodes, metal
plates/pins/screws/ wires, or neuro/bio-stimulators (TENS unit), persons who have ever
been a professional metal worker/welder, history of eye surgery/eyes washed out
because of metal, vision problems uncorrectable with lenses, inability to lie still on
one's back for 60-120 minutes; prior neurosurgery; tattoos or cosmetic makeup with
metal dyes, unwillingness to remove body piercings, and pregnancy.
We found this trial at
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74136
Phone: 918-502-5169
Tulsa, OK
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