Last updated on March 2019

Examining the Effects of Reduced Environmental Stimulation on Anxiety

Brief description of study

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

Detailed Study Description

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 and lack of a control condition. 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 and a control condition. The current project is focused on documenting the subjective, 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 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. 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. An exteroceptive control condition aims to examine each participant's baseline physiological state while participants watch a neutral documentary film. 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 relaxation response induced by the floating experience.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03051074

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