Keys Study

Keys Study on Starvation

by Laura Smidchens

During WWII the US government supported a research study in preparation to dealing with the starving masses they expected to encounter in Europe. Conscientious objectors volunteered to participate in an extended study on food restriction and the problems that may arise in the refeeding process. While the test was not completed in time for the US invasion into occupied parts of Europe, the experiment provided invaluable knowledge on what happens to a person’s mind and body and, consequently, their behaviors as they are deprived of needed nutrients and calories. Also, the experiment showed that even physically and psychologically healthy individuals, with no history of eating disorders (ED) in their family history, will develop ED symptoms if deprived of enough food.

Anger, Rage, and More Aberrant Behaviors
As the study progressed, many of the subjects began showing reduced tolerance for stress. Anxiety-related issues began to appear among the group laced with argumentative behavior and fits of rage. While the subjects had been highly social at the beginning of the experiment, well into the restrictive period the group dissolved into individuals prone to voluntarily isolating themselves from others.

Behavioral and Emotional Changes
The subjects, along with such aberrant behaviors, began showing difficulty in dealing with stress, increased anxiety, and signs of depression. These symptoms were exhibited in a variety of ways from excessive sleeping to self-harm. Initially two subjects were removed from the study for stopping at a food vendor and binging on unauthorized food. In spite of this example, later in the study a person concluded that the only way to have himself removed from the study was to amputate three of his own fingers. While this was an isolated example, a number of the subjects began cutting themselves to cope with their anxiety.

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