They Spent 40 Days in a Dark Cave for Science. Some Want to Go Back

Isolation study in France deprived subjects of clocks, light, contact with outside world
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 24, 2021 9:00 AM CDT
They Spent 40 Days in a Dark Cave for Science. Some Want to Go Back
Members of the French team that participated in the "Deep Time" study emerge from a cave after 40 days underground in Ussat-les-Bains, France, on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Renata Brito)

Ever wonder what it would feel like to unplug from a hyperconnected world and hide away in a dark cave for 40 days? Fifteen people in France did just that, emerging Saturday from a scientific experiment to say that time seemed to pass more slowly in their cavernous underground abode, where they were deprived of clocks and light, per the AP. With big smiles on their pale faces, the 15 left their voluntary isolation in the Lombrives cave, wearing special glasses to protect their eyes after so long in the dark. For 40 days and 40 nights, the group lived in and explored the cave without a sense of time as part of the "Deep Time" project. There was no sunlight inside, the temperature was 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the relative humidity stood at 100%. The cave dwellers had no contact with the outside world, no updates on the pandemic, nor any communication with friends or family. The team members followed their biological clocks to know when to wake up, go to sleep, and eat.

In partnership with labs in France and Switzerland, researchers monitored the group's sleep patterns, social interactions, and behavioral reactions via sensors. Scientists at the Human Adaptation Institute leading the $1.5 million project say the experiment was designed to help them better understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments. As expected, those in the cave lost their sense of time. On Friday, scientists entered the cave to let the research subjects know they'd be coming out soon. They said many in the group miscalculated and thought they had another week to 10 days to go. At least one team member estimated the time underground at 23 days. Although the participants looked visibly tired, two-thirds expressed a desire to remain underground a bit longer in order to finish group projects, one researcher says. "It was like pressing pause," said 33-year-old team member Marina Lançon.

(More discoveries stories.)

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