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500 Days in a Cave

A Study into Extreme Isolation

Reporting by Beatrice Ashkanfar

“Excuse me if I mumble, I haven’t spoken to anyone for almost a year and a half”, were some of the first words spoken by extreme endurance athlete Beatriz Flamini who emerged today from a cave after 500 days in Motril, Granada. The feat was part of a closely monitored experiment to gauge the impact of social isolation.

Despite reporting incidents of auditory hallucinations and fly infestations Beatriz said that “I never thought of giving up, I was good, I didn’t want to leave”. Beatriz spent her time in the cave reading, knitting, exercising and filming on a GoPro and said that she didn’t miss human contact. The athlete asked scientists not to tell her about events in the outside world, including news relating to close family members. Surprisingly, over the year and a half spent in the cave Beatriz failed to find the two bottles of wine left for her by scientist colleagues who hid them as a game.

According to the ONS (UK) loneliness and social isolation is on the rise. Between 2020-2021 the rate of adults who reported feeling lonely increased from 2.6 million to 3.7 million (around 7.2% of the adult population). Post COVID-19 there has been a sustained increase in people aged between 16-24 reporting feelings of loneliness. Ironically the highest density of socially isolated people is found in urban areas with the least in the countryside.

So what can we learn from Beatriz’s experience in the cave?

That it takes an extreme athlete to thrive in social isolation or that a year and half long hunt for a bottle of wine is enough to keep the brain ticking over?

Psychologists who monitored the study will be reporting their findings soon.

Meanwhile, Beatriz is looking forward to her next cave stay in Mongolia.

Pic credits: Cathy O’Dowd

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