In 2000 film Cast Away Tom Hanks's hero is stranded on an uninhabited island, Robinson Crusoe style, and after a while starts talking to a volleyball. And I thought: what would actually happen to a person with total social isolation (not necessarily stranded on an island)? How would their cognitive functions, behavior, mental health, skills change? There are many variables that might influence the changes happening to a person.

  • Time: when each psychological change starts to appear?
  • Age: how would children, teenagers, adults and elderly differ?
  • Socialization: what if the person simply has less social interactions? (e.g. prison, remote living)
  • Pre-existing mental issues: how would depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders or any other disorder influence the change during isolation?
  • Any other variable?

1 Answer 1


I have skimmed this paper about solitary confinement and the consequences seem disastrous

"The paradigmatic psychiatric disturbance was an agitated confusional state which, in more severe cases, had the characteristics of a florid delirium, characterized by severe confusional, paranoid, and hallucinatory features, and also by intense agitation and random, impulsive, often self-directed violence. Such disturbances were often observed in individuals who had no prior history of any mental illness. In addition, solitary confinement often resulted in severe exacerbation of a previously existing mental condition. Even among inmates who did not develop overt psychiatric illness as a result of solitary confinement, such confinement almost inevitably imposed significant psychological pain during the period of isolated confinement and often significantly impaired the inmate’s capacity to adapt successfully to the broader prison environment. "

A statement from the US supreme court regarding the matter (in the same paper)

"[E]xperience [with the penitentiary system of solitary confinement] demonstrated that there were serious objections to it. A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community."



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