Altering consciousness in the laboratory setting
Abstract. The purpose of the presented investigations was to study the phenomenology and effects of altered states of consciousness (ASC) induced through previous illicit use of psychedelic drugs as well as experimentally induced ASC through the flotation tank restricted environmental stimulation technique (flotation-REST) in a laboratory setting. Of special interest was the effect of flotation-REST induced ASC as a function of previous experiences of ASC and defined experimentally modified settings on creativity, stress and psychological subjective impact.
In Paper I it was shown that through a structured anonymous questionnaire of previous illicit psychedelic drug users that transpersonal experience clusters, as described by Stanislav Grof during therapeutic use of LSD, were well represented outside the therapeutic setting. The psychological implications and also adverse effects of ASC in non-supportive settings are discussed.
In Paper II it was shown that such mild techniques as that induced by so called flotation-REST to some extent may induce altered states of consciousness comparable with psychedelic drugs. These experimentally induced flotation-REST experiences are described in detail and the effect as a function of modified pre-flotation setting (fantasy/strict) and previous experiences of ASC was studied in Paper II. It was shown that "expectation" and "setting" had no significant effect on the subjective flotation-experience. Also, a significant elevation of mood and a pain-reducing effect were noted from prefloating to postfloating.
In Paper III, experimental modifications of both "setting" (stress/non-stress) and technique (chamber-REST versus flotation-REST) were performed in connection with measurements of creativity. Chamber-REST and flotation-REST were equally effective in reducing stress, but flotation-REST altered consciousness to a higher degree than chamber-REST. Floatation-REST induced more originality and impaired deductive thinking whereas chamber-REST induced more realistic and elaborated thinking. An interaction effect was noted in so far as participants stressed in the chamber-REST condition showed more realism than their non-stressed counterparts.
The results from the present investigations show that flotation-REST offers a safe and practical method of inducing altered states of consciousness in a controlled laboratory setting. In light of the presented findings, the technique is seen as a promising area for future research on stress reduction, pain treatment and personal development.
Key words: Altered states of consciousness, ASC, Floating, Flotation, REST, Psychedelic, Pain, Creativity.
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