It Existed: The Tranquilizing Chair


The tranquilizing chair, circa 1810. Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images

Given this week's podcast episode "Sanity/Insanity: The Rosenhan Experiment," I thought it fitting to examine a piece of mental health history in the form of the "tranquilizing chair," an invention of Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), often cited as the father of American psychiatry.

The whole method here hinges on the premise that madness was an arterial disease, stemming from an inflammation of the brain. Rush sought to treat this condition by controlling blood flow to the brain and reducing motor activity [source: Penn Medicine]. You'll also notice the presence of blinders. Naturally, the chair proved rather useless, and one can't help but wonder what negative effects the restraints and sensory deprivation had on the patient.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.