In Chapter 6 of Extreme we discuss research relevant to solitude: how people in extreme environments cope with extended periods of isolation, why some people are well-suited to long periods of time alone while others suffer psychological breakdown, and how we can all benefit from some time alone.
As well as the scholarly literature, we drew on many accounts of solitary endeavours. A particularly rich source was the accounts of long-distance solo sailors. People have attempted single-handed circumnavigations since the Nineteenth Century sailor Joshua Slocum first sailed alone around the world. Some cope well, whereas others are broken by the experience. In the latter category, Donald Crowhurst is probably the most well-known, thanks in part to the masterful account of his ‘strange last voyage’ by Tomalin and Hall.
Moving from the oceans onto land, two accounts of polar isolation – that of Admiral Richard Byrd and that of August Courtauld – are vivid depictions of life alone in harsh and dangerous places. More recently, Bob Kull spent a year on an isolated Chilean island and wrote a wonderful book about his experiences ‘seeking solitude in extremes’.
A sadder story is that of Johnny and Guy Waterman, a son and father who both craved solitude, and both of whom died alone in on a mountain. Their story is told in Geoff Powter’s Strange and Dangerous Dreams and in an excellent article by Rob Buchanan in Outside Magazine.
Finally, I loved Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence about her own search for silence through solitude in various locations in the British Isles. It is a beautifully written book and she discusses many examples of those who have sought solitude, including some of those mentioned above.
You can buy all the books we mention from the Extreme Bookshelf Amazon store*.
- Slocum, J. (2006). Sailing alone around the world. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books. (Original published 1900.)
- James, N. (1972). Woman alone. London: Express Newspapers Ltd.
- Knox-Johnston, R. (2004). A world of my own. London: Adlard Coles Nautical (Original published 1969).
- Milnes Walker, N. (1972). When I put out to sea. London: Pan Books Ltd.
- Moitessier, B. (1995). The long way. Dobbs Ferry: Sheridan House Inc (Original published 1971.)
- Nichols, P. (1997) A voyage for madmen. London: Profile Books
- Tomalin, N. & Hall, R. (2003). The strange last voyage of Donald Crowhurst. London: Hodder & Stoughton
- Byrd, R.E. (1938). Alone. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
- Courtauld, A. (1932). Living alone under polar conditions. Polar Record, 1, 66-74.
- Kull, R. (2009). Solitude: Seeking wisdom in extremes. Novato, CA: New World Library.
- Buchanan, R. (2000) A Natural Death. Outside Magazine, 1 June.
- Powter, G. (2006). Strange and dangerous dreams. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books.
- Maitland, S. (2008). A book of silence. London:Granta
Scholarly works we referenced in Chapter 6
- Arrigo, B. A. & Bullock, J. L. (2008). The psychological effects of solitary confinement on prisoners in supermax units: Reviewing what we know and recommending what should change. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 52, 622-640.
- Baumeister, R.F. & Leary, M.R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.
- Bennet, G. (1983). Beyond Endurance: Survival at the Extremes. London: Martin, Secker & Warburg Ltd.
- Bennet, G. (1974). Psychological breakdown at sea: Hazards of singlehanded ocean sailing. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 47, 189-210
- Brymer, E. & Gray, T. (2010). Developing an intimate ‘relationship’ with nature through extreme sports participation. Leisure/Loisir, 34, 361-374.
- Burger, J. M. (1995). Individual differences in preference for solitude. Journal of Research in Personality, 29, 85–108.
- Cacioppo, J. T. & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human nature and the need for social connection. New York: WW Norton & Company.
- Clark, B. & Graybiel, A. (1957). The break-off phenomenon: A feeling of separation from the earth experienced by pilots at high altitude. The Journal of Aviation Medicine, 28, 121.
- Coplan, R.J. & Weeks, M. (2010a) Unsociability in the preference for solitude in childhood. In K.H. Rubin & R.J. Coplan (Eds.). The development of shyness and social withdrawal (pp.64-83). New York: Guilford Press.
- Coplan, R. J. & Weeks, M. (2010b) Unsociability in middle childhood: Conceptualization, assessment, and associations with socioemotional functioning. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 56, 105-130
- Coplan, R. J. et al. (2004). Do you ‘want’ to play? Distinguishing between conflicted shyness and social disinterest in early childhood. Developmental psychology, 40, 244-58.
- Cramer, K. M. & Lake, R. P. (1998). The preference for solitude scale: psychometric properties and factor structure. Comparative and General Pharmacology, 24, 193–199.
- Downey, G. et al. (1998). The self-fulfilling prophecy in close relationships: rejection sensitivity and rejection by romantic partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 545-60.
- Grassian, S. (1983). Psychopathological effects of solitary confinement. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 1450-1454.
- Haggard, E.A. (1973). Some effects of geographic and social isolation in natural settings. In J.E. Rasmussen (Ed.) Man in isolation and confinement (pp. 99-144). Chicago IL: Aldine Publishing Company.
- Hames, J.L, Hagan, C.R. & Joiner, T.E. (2013). Interpersonal Processes in Depression. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 355 -377.
- Hawkley, L. C. et al. (2003). Loneliness in everyday life: Cardiovascular activity, psychosocial context, and health behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 105-120.
- Heinrich, L. M. & Gullone, E. (2006). The clinical significance of loneliness: A literature review. Clinical Psychology Review, 26, 695-718.
- Hills, P. and Argyle, M. (2001). Happiness, introversion-extraversion and happy introverts. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 595-608.
- Jaremka, L. M., Lindgren, M. E. & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2013). Synergistic relationships among stress, depression, and troubled relationships: insights from psychoneuroimmunology. Depression and Anxiety, 30,288-296.
- Kwapil, T. R. (1998). Social anhedonia as a predictor of the development of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107, 558–565.
- Leary, M. R., Herbst, K. C. & McCrary, F. (2003). Finding pleasure in solitary activities: desire for aloneness or disinterest in social contact? Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 59–68.
- Lester, J.T. (1983). Wrestling with the self on Mount Everest. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 23,31-41
- Lester, J.T. (2004). Spirit, identity, and self in mountaineering. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44, 86-100
- Long, C.R. et al. (2003). Solitude experiences: varieties, settings, and individual differences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 578-583.
- Martin, P. (1997). The sickening mind: Brain, Behaviour, immunity and disease. London: HarperCollins.
- Mills, J. N. (1964). Circadian rhythms during and after three months in solitude underground. Journal of Physiology, 174, 217–231.
- Peplau, L. A. & Perlman, D. (1982). Perspectives on loneliness. In L. A. Peplau, & D. Perlman, (Eds.).Loneliness: A sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy (pp.1-18). New York: John Wiley.
- Perlman, D. & Peplau, L. A. (1984). Loneliness research: A survey of empirical findings. In L.A. Peplau & S. Goldston (Eds.). Preventing the harmful consequences of severe and persistent loneliness (pp.13-46.). Rockville: National Institute of Mental Health.
- Rubin, K. H., Coplan, R. J. & Bowker, J. C. (2009). Social withdrawal in childhood. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 141-171.
- Rufus, A.S. (2003) Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
- Russell, D. W. (1996). UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3): Reliability, validity, and factor structure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 66, 20-40.
- Russell, D.W. et al. (2012): Is loneliness the same as being alone? The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 146, 7-22
- Scott, G. D. & Gendreau, P. (1969). Psychiatric implications of sensory deprivation in a maximum security prison. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, 14, 337-341.
- Segrin, C. & Kinney, T. (1995). Social skills deficits among the socially anxious: Rejection from others and loneliness. Motivation and Emotion, 19, 1-24.
- Shalev, S. (2008). A sourcebook on solitary confinement. London: London School of Economics
- Silvia, P.J. & Kwapil, T.R. (2011). Aberrant asociality: How individual differences in social anhedonia illuminate the need to belong. Journal of Personality, 79, 1315-1332.
- Storr, A. (1997). Solitude. London: HarperCollins.
- Zubek, J.P. (1973). Behavioral and physiological effects of prolonger sensory and perceptual deprivation: A review. In J.E. Rasmussen (Ed.) Man in isolation and confinement (pp. 9-84). Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.
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