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The Neurobiology of Psychological Torture

brain_01The UCDavis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas (CSHRA) and the UCDavis Center for Mind and Brain (CMB) have initiated a collaboration to investigate the neurobiology of psychological torture. Psychological torture (henceforth PT) is a set of practices that are used worldwide to inflict pain or suffering without resorting to direct physical violence. PT includes the use of sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, forced self-induced pain, solitary confinement, mock execution, severe humiliation, mind-altering drugs and threats of violence—as well as the exploitation of personal or cultural phobias. The psychiatric sequelae of PT are severe. They include delirium, psychosis, regression, self-mutilation, cognitive impairment, and anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuroscience research on these and related mental disorders continues to establish their neurobiological underpinnings, thus challenging the popular view that PT is not physical, not serious, and perhaps not even torture at all.


The CSHRA and the CMB launched their collaborative efforts by holding The First UCDavis Workshop on the Neurobiology of Psychological Torture. The workshop took place on September 30, 2006 at the facilities of the CMB, located in 267 Cousteau Place, Davis, CA 95618, USA. The goal of this workshop was to bring together researchers and practitioners from different specialties and research groups in order to set off a unified, long-term, research program on the ways in which PT affects the human central nervous system in an effort to understand it in relation to the more traditional forms of physical torture, and to establish clearly articulated ethical, legal, and medical descriptions of this set of practices. It is expected that these descriptions will help treat, document, and deter PT.

Supplemented by studies on the social, historical, and ethical ramifications of PT, the presentations made at The First UCDavis Workshop on the Neurobiology of Psychological Torture were published as The Trauma of Psychological Torture.

Here you may listen to an interview about this volume on National Public Radio or read the reviews of the book.