thumbnail of Behavioral science research; Performance and stress
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The following program is produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant he made from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters performance and stress program from the series human behavior social and medical research produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service with special assistance from the Mental Health Research Institute of the University of Michigan. These programs have been developed from interviews with men and women who have the too often on glamorous job of basic research. Research in medicine the physical sciences social sciences and the behavioral sciences. Occasionally you will hear what may seem like strange or unfamiliar silence. These are the sounds of the participants office laboratory or clinic where the interviews were first recorded. The people you will hear today are Dr. Louis Jay Wess head of the department of psychiatry neurology and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City Oklahoma.
And Dr. Robert H Felix director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda Maryland. And my name is Glenn Phillips. Humans have been studied under normal conditions of stress rather extensively. But little is known about their capabilities or limitations. When more extreme conditions are presented the very nature of an expanding understanding of the universe will exert more and more strain and stress to daily living will manage us aside from daily routine. Some more dramatic conditions confronting him will be long stretches in relative confinement in a submarine for example a feat already accomplished confinement in space vehicle a step just around the corner. Pressures and responsibility of government office. Also such other stress as has been vividly demonstrated by enemy induced insult to mind and body. Not only is a better understanding needed of stress
situation but we need to know techniques that may be used to improve performance. What are some of the facts known by scientists. Dr. Robert Felix made this statement. We know for instance that. Various kinds of stresses and strains under which a person lives can cause. Disorders in the way the cream glands function the types of hormones which are elaborated work of such great scientists as Dr Hans Saturday and Canada doctor doctors Pincus and Hoagland in Massachusetts and a number of others have pointed out the various ways in which individuals respond to stress in sickness and in health. Well it may well be then that a healthy environment throws sufficient stress on an individual that he is eventually compensates
physically. By this I mean that no longer can he adapt to this stress as a normal person does and as a result various of his bodily functions do not perform in a completely normal manner and he produces substances biochemical substances which in effect are what we call psycho memetic. That is they. They produce or mimic a psychotic state see motion only disturb States. Now. As one tries to adapt to this unhealthy social situation he adopts certain psychological mechanisms to make this possible. It may be that these can become so disordered as a result of continued failure to adapt socially that they contribute to the stress which
in the end causes the breakdown of the adaptive mechanism. Dr Louis J West and his associates at the University of Oklahoma medical school have spent a great amount of time and energy studying man under stress condition. Dr. West also has studied military personnel over many years as they have confronted stressful situations. He discussed his general feelings and his interest in this area and a great many interesting and valuable observations have come from the most terrible of human activities. It's almost as though nature feels that we ought to be rewarded for what we've gone through. For example the atomic research which was essentially geared to destructive purposes has led us through the use of radioactive tracer materials to
methods whereby we can understand how human beings work better than we ever were able to do before. Similarly in a sphere of psychological stress and suffering that people have had to undergo in war time. We have obtained some leads that now seem to hold promise in behavioral science today. To me one of the most interesting aspects of all this comes out of one of the most horrible. Of our recent wartime experiences. As you know they communists in order to obtain false confessions for political purposes have long resorted to rather elaborate and terrifying system of organized pressure upon individuals. The
nature of this stress sometimes erroneously called brainwashing is one in which the individual is isolated subjected to endless interrogations and at the complete mercy of his captors is eventually brought to confess to things that he never did and in some instances apparently with a certain measure of change in his ability to determine himself whether or not he's innocent or guilty. My own study days that began with such cases and with a military requirements for understanding them. Has now led to completely a different area of study which I think holds promise in just the opposite direction. And other words forced interrogations for political
purposes might be considered exercises in breaking people down. We hope that eventually we will be able to develop information that will enable us to put people back together again who have broken down under the stress and strain of everyday life people who now occupy more than half of all the hospital beds in this country. To illustrate some of the points he has just made I asked Dr. West if it were possible to know or distinguish the difference stresses that might be produced under different situations. Well that's a very good question and it's one that has bedeviled investigators for a long time. And it appeared that there was no such thing as a universal Strasse on man's strength this might be another man's phone and vice versa. And approaching the problem of. The Air Force prisoners who gave false confessions
under stress similar to the famous case of carnal men Zandi and other political prisoners. We endeavored to single out the aspects of this situation that produced a affects breaking down a man's will or his capacity to cope with the situation enough to get him to admit to having done something he didn't do. Contrary to his training and his background and his beliefs we considered many things drugs hypnosis Pavlovian conditioning or just plain torture in the sense of bringing a person to the point of doing anything to get relief from pain and in no instance were we able to satisfy ourselves. That any of
these things or even a combination of them could account for the remarkably good results that the Communists were obtaining in getting confessions of germ warfare from our fliers who had indeed not been engaging in germ warfare. In fact it was in the search for our secret is that the lead presented itself to us that finally enabled us to see what was really under our noses all the time. Some of these prisoners were given drugs white powder in the food or some such thing. But this was not a sedative or a drug which cause mental disorganization like LSD. As far as we could determine it was a simple stimulant or something like men's. And we couldn't understand why they were trying to keep people awake. And then we recalled that there had been some work during World War Two.
Prolonged sleep deprivation in Maine which indicated that if people were kept awake long enough they might develop a mental illness and perhaps if they became disorganized in their personalities it would be possible to get them to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. With this in mind we began to turn our attention to the whole issue of the requirement that is universal for sleep and the degree to which deprivation of sleep would lead inevitably disastrous consequences. From the point of view of mental function it's like deprivation of water will lead to an evitable disastrous consequences in the total biology of a man. We know that animals can be killed by keeping them awake long enough but we don't know why they die. At the time that we begin to
look into this further the scientific literature was conflict you will sense they Army studies during World War 2. There had been additional work extensive work done at Walter Reed. This did not seem to indicate that at least for periods up to 96 hours that a major personality disorder could be produced by prolonged wakefulness. The question then arose whether more extended periods of sleep deprivation might produce the type of mental disorder that could be exploited by a ruthless captor. Scanty goes back to about 1896 but it's only been here and there. And there have been a few individuals
who stayed awake a very long period of time but object of studies of their cases were lacking. The first one to come to our attention locally was when two radio announcers engaged in a marathon broadcasting contest at the time of the Oklahoma Centennial semi centennial and 19 57. These two men stayed awake one hundred sixty eight and a half hours. During the last 60 or 70 hours of this time they were both noted to be increasingly irrational disorganized confused and generally to show the signs of mental disturbance rather profound one and one which did not reverse itself immediately as the textbooks would have led us to expect. In fact these cases came to our attention only when one man reported for
treatment. After six weeks had gone by because he had persistent episodes of blackouts and loss of ability to do is every day work as a radio broadcaster. And this case was reported in what detail we had today American Medical Association. But since we hadn't been on the spot this so to speak we still are frustrated in our desire to learn exactly what changes take place in a human being who approaches the limits and Durrance with regard to sleep deprivation. In other words a person who is put under the most extreme stress in so far as this can be called a stress and I'm sure it can be. No one would argue about that. Golden opportunity came last January when Mr.
Peter trip and New York radio broadcaster and record spinner undertook to stay awake for two hundred hours and marathon broadcast for the March of Dimes campaign. A team of scientists was assembled to study Mr. Tripp during this. Since he insisted on going ahead with it after we had all advised him not to and and apprised him of the dangers involved. He was studied extensively from psychological medical physiological biochemical points of view and was under constant observation by a team of psychiatrists psychiatric nurses psychologists and assorted scientists for a total period of about two weeks.
It's included in the baseline period of eight and a half days that he actually did succeed in staying awake and the recovery period afterwards. Now there is an enormous body of data that we have accumulated from the study much of it is not analyzed and some of it is analyzed but not coordinated with the rest. So I can't give you any final answer. But there are few things that I can tell you that we learn from Mr. Tripp's ordeal. The most important general statement is that after about four days even healthy well-adjusted and highly motivated man will inevitably begin to disorganize mentally it becomes impossible for a person to continue.
To test reality successfully after that period of time. We learned that he effects of prolonged wakefulness. Three in so far as that sleep is concerned. First there's an increasing burden of sleepiness that anyone who's had to stay awake a long period of time understands the second. And there are little brief episodes of sleep that the Walter Reed scientists have called micro Sleeps which are almost like little fits or seizures during which a person may appear to be going about his business but does sell for two or three second period automatically and during that time like Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep her eyes are open but their sense is shot. During these brief micro sleeps a person is
behaving really awake but he's unable to deal with the real environment at all during that period of time something he's supposed to be watching for he'll miss it. An important thing for people who want to drive day and night to keep in mind especially at high speeds. In the third and in some ways the most important finding. However with regard to the mental effects. Is that a progressive deterioration occurs involving the entire gamut of capacities to deal with the real world. Next trip experienced a wide variety of mental symptoms and these became steadily worse as time went on. During the nights when he was usually asleep they were worse than they were during the day. But even with the ups and downs of the diurnal cycle which persists even when you're awake.
The overall picture was one of a progressive disorganized patient. I mean by the time Mr. Chip had been awake a hundred hours he was seeing things that weren't there. He recognized these as hallucinations and didn't believe that they were truly important. By the time he'd been awake one hundred and ninety hours he was convinced that the things he saw had real Letty and that they must have been put there for a purpose that there must be a plot against him. And he showed all the classical symptoms. Mentally ill person delusions hallucinations ideas of reference disorientation in time and space. There are even times when he didn't know who he was now. Along with this went a series of
changes in ability to perform on a wide variety of psychological tests. We discovered for example that vigilance is much more sensitive then for example reaction time which holds up pretty well. If you spot a danger you can react to it but you may not spot it. Similarly we found out that certain aspects of bodily function. For example the electrocardiogram were completely unaffected by this tremendous ordeal but that the brain waves electroencephalogram were profoundly affected and that indeed there was a great deal of evidence for a major disruption of brain function. It was this that went along with the mental changes that we were able to see clinically. There were also a number of other studies chemical studies and so on they were not
yet able to report. But in the ten months that have passed since Mr. Tripp's experience already a number of leads that were opened up from that study have been pursued with profit. For example it was found that after Mr. trip planned they went to sleep he dreamed a surprising amount of the time. Dr. William Dement of Mt. Sinai Hospital has been studying dreams and who measured Mr. Tripp's dreaming during the 48 hours after he was allowed to go to sleep. Thought that it appeared as though he seemed to be catching up on his dreaming as well as on his sleeping. And it occurred to Dr. Dement that there may be such a thing as a requirement and that a person who is kept awake
a long period of time may also be deprived of his dreaming time as well as of his sleeping time. Since he has been pursuing this issue and has raised a great many interesting new questions and has turned up a good deal of important new information about they need that every person has to dream every night. I cite this as merely one example of a way in which by this route we came from. A requirement to understand what was happening to men under stress in war to a situation in which we are developing new insights into our human nature and insights which may have particular application in the treatment of the mentally ill. Deprivation of sleep is only one form of stress. One that all of us have experience. However the stress produced in this instance be compared
to other types of stress are the results the same or similar under different conditions. Again Dr. West said well actually we don't know and we're trying to find out. Certain things are obviously required for life. And impairing the supply of the will produce profound changes in human behavior including mental functions where water food oxygen and sleep are for things without which people cannot live on this globe. Now when it comes to. Other functions of the environment. They get into. The significance of past experience in interpretating the meaning of events. Loud noises which are explosions threatening life and be very stressful.
Loud noises which are blasting for new construction may not be. However I think it's interesting to me that together with the sleep deprivation research here at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center we have become interested in another issue which seems to be very closely related to it. Dr. J. T. Surely a professor in the department here has been cutting people off from their environment. By submerging them in a tank of water and body temperature for prolonged periods of time. This work which derives from the experiments of Donald have at McGill in sensory isolation and using a method that is the underwater method that was
worked out by Dr. John Leslie at the National Institutes of Mental Health seeks to determine the degree and manner in which every individual. Requires a certain amount of varying stimulation from the environment. If he is to function normally it now appears that in a relatively short period of time a few hours at the most normal person who is completely cut off from his surroundings in this way will begin to experience some of the symptoms of mental derangement similar to those experienced by a person who is deprived of sleep for days and days. Similar to those produced by the administration of drugs which like LSD or mescaline impair a person's contact with the environment in another way by poisoning the
sensory apparatus. The number of other areas of research are bringing us closer and closer to a kind of universal picture of the nature of the relationship between man and his environment. This relationship is a terribly complicated one of course and the adaptation of a man to his environment is one which involves a great many different systems and all the systems from the atomic level the chemicals in the body the molecules the organs operating individually and the body operating as a whole. And then people operating in groups represent a series of systems from the simplest to the most complex. And these systems all of which are involved in adaptation of man to his environment.
Simultaneously in the most complex relationship to each other these transactions among different systems that add up to the whole meaning of a human person represents a total sphere of behavioral science. And it is. Through the development of behavioral science in such a frame of reference that I feel we have our chance not only to do something about the terrible and growing problem of mental illness but perhaps to learn some something about human nature that may enable us to preserve our race from self extinction. Today we have heard Dr. Lewis J West discussing current research and investigation into stress situations presented to man. Earlier
in the program we heard a comment by Dr. Robert feely. Next week you will hear Rev. C. Leslie Glenn Dr. Earl Loomis and Reverend George Christian Andersen as they discuss religion and science. On the next programme from the series human behavior social and medical research consultant for this program was Professor Arthur W. Melton of the University of Michigan Department of Psychology. We extend our special thanks to the Mental Health Research Institute of the University of Michigan for their assistance. When Philip speaking asking that you join us next week and thanking you for being with us at this time this program has been produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant in aid from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the NEA E.B. Radio Network.
Behavioral science research
Performance and stress
Producing Organization
University of Michigan
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-t14tp51b).
Episode Description
This program focuses on research into human performance and stress. Guests are: Louis Jolyon West, M.D., University of Oklahoma; and Robert H. Felix, M.D.
Series Description
A documentary series on behavioral science and its role in understanding human health.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Host: Cowlin, Bert
Interviewee: West, Louis Jolyon, 1924-
Interviewee: Felix, Robert H. (Robert Hanna), 1904-
Producing Organization: University of Michigan
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-36-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:11
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Behavioral science research; Performance and stress,” 1961-07-20, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2023,
MLA: “Behavioral science research; Performance and stress.” 1961-07-20. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2023. <>.
APA: Behavioral science research; Performance and stress. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from