Center on Sentencing and Corrections

The Effects of Solitary Confinement on the Brain

The Effects of Solitary Confinement on the Brain

Elena Bianco-Suarez, “The Effects of Solitary Confinement on the Brain,” Psychology Today, February 27, 2019, 

This article from Psychology Today examines the negative impacts of solitary confinement on the brain. By describing the physical and neurological detriments of isolation in prisons, this article provides a neuroscientific argument in favor of significantly reducing the use of solitary confinement and increasing social and unrestrictive conditions in correctional facilities. 

Chronic social isolation as experienced in solitary confinement decreases the size of the hippocampus, which is the brain region “related to learning, memory, and spatial awareness.” Social isolation subsequently increases the activity of the amygdala, which impacts an individual’s ability to mediate fear and anxiety. In addition, in studies done on mice, “one month of social isolation caused a decrease of around 20% of the total volume of neurons.” Other detrimental effects include disruptions to an individual’s circadian rhythm, impairment to one’s sense of direction, and needing to retrain one’s eyes to recognize faces. This article concludes by asserting that science must be integrated into law, as the psychological, physical, and neurological harms of solitary confinement must be fully understood and recognized by those who influence the prison system.


Click here to read the article. 

Keywords: neuroscience, brain, solitary confinement, restrictive housing, health, isolation, social isolation.