Sensory deprivation or perceptual isolation is the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli from one or more of the senses. Simple devices such as blindfolds or hoods and earmuffs can cut off sight and hearing, while more complex devices can also cut off the sense of smell, touch, taste, thermoception (heat-sense), and ‘gravity’. Sensory deprivation has been used in various alternative medicines and in psychological experiments (e.g., see isolation tank). Sensory deprivation can be used also in sexual acts to produce feeling of repression or make another senses more sensitive, such as feel of touch can be stronger if blindfold is in use.
Short-term sessions of sensory deprivation are described as relaxing and conducive to meditation; however, extended or forced sensory deprivation can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, and depression.
A related phenomenon is perceptual deprivation, also called the ganzfeld effect. In this case a constant uniform stimulus is used instead of attempting to remove the stimuli, this leads to effects which has similarities to sensory deprivation.
Sensory deprivation techniques were developed by some of the armed forces within NATO, as a means of interrogating prisoners within international treaty obligations. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the use of the five techniques by British security forces in Northern Ireland amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment.