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2. What is a hypnotic "trance" ?

2.1 "Trance" descriptive or misleading?

Most of the classical notions of hypnosis have long held that hypnosis was special in some way from other types of interpersonal communication and that an induction (preparatory process considered by some to be necessary in the production of hypnotic phenomena) would lead to a state in which the subject's awareness and behavioral responding was somehow altered from the usual.

The name historically most commonly associated with this altered state of functioning is 'trance,' a term shared by the description of the activities of certain spiritualist mediums and other phenomena that some psychologists might refer to as 'dissociative,' because something about the individual's personality appears split off from the usual response patterns to the environment.

Trance, for reasons we shall examine here, can be a very misleading term for what is going on in hypnosis, since it is not necessarily a sleep or stupor as some of traditional connotations of the term trance imply.

But 'trance' is so ubiquitous in literature that it might serve us to be familiar with its uses and the issues underlying it, and to use it as a starting point.

There were a great many experimental and clinical studies done to try to determine what might be unique about hypnosis, as opposed to other kinds of situations (e.g. people simply being motivated to comply with the hypnotist; i.e. hypnotic simulators). Outward behavioral signs and virtually every physiological measurement reported in hypnosis differ seemingly not at all from the usual waking state of consciousness, as the non-state theorists contend.

Years of careful analysis by a number of researchers were mostly fruitless in turning up any reliable physiological correlates of hypnosis that were not (1) related to the relaxation associated with the induction (most inductions, but not all, involve physical relaxation); or (2) an obvious result of a suggestion rather than the mechanism responsible for the observed suggestibility assumed to some degree unique to hypnotic trance.

At least one theory of hypnosis considers it equivalent to a form of relaxation. Comparison of various relaxation methods with regard to both objective measurements and subjective reports indicate deep relaxation accompanying some hypnosis but not all hypnosis. Hypnotic suggestibility is apparently not limited to relaxed states.

In Morse, Martin, Furst, & Dubin, "A physiological and subjective evaluation of meditation, hypnosis, and relaxation," from Journal Psychosomatic Medicine. 39(5):304-24, 1977 Sep-Oct, a representative study of relaxation was done.

Subjects were monitored for respiratory rate, pulse rate, blood pressure, skin resistance, EEG activity, and muscle activity. They were monitored during the alert state, meditation (TM or simple word type), hypnosis (relaxation and task types), and relaxation. Ss gave a verbal comparative evaluation of each state. The results showed significantly better relaxation responses for the relaxation states (relaxation, relaxation- hypnosis, meditation) than for the alert state. There were no significant differences between the relaxation states except for the measure "muscle activity" in which meditation was significantly better than the other relaxation states. Overall, there were significant differences between task-hypnosis and relaxation-hypnosis. No significant differences were found between TM and simple word meditation. For the subjective measures, relaxation-hypnosis and meditation were significantly better than relaxation, but no significant differences were found between meditation and relaxation-hypnosis.

There are a few more recent attempts to find physiological correlates of hypnotic suggestibility. One of these was EEG research by David Spiegel of Stanford, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94:249-255, by Spiegel, Cutcomb, Ren, and Pribram, (1985) "Hypnotic Hallucination Alters Evoked Potentials." Spiegel seemed to find an evoked response pattern that appeared during hypnotically suggested hallucination yet not during simulation of hypnotic hallucination. Nicholas Spanos and others have argued that this EEG data has been misinterpreted given the nature of the control subjects used. (Author's response to commentary by Spiegel, of Spanos, N. (1986) "Hypnotic Behavior: A Social-Psychological Interpretation of Amnesia, Analgesia, and 'Trance Logic'." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 9:449-502).

In another similar attempt, from 1976, but measuring certain frequencies of EEG activity rather than evoked potentials, a Russian journal reports some tentative success at finding a physiological correlate to hypnotic induction. See Aladzhalova, Rozhnov, & Kamenetskii, "Human hypnosis and super-slow electrical activity of the brain." [RUSSIAN] Zhurnal Nevropatologii I Psikhiatrii Imeni S - S - Korsakova. 76(5):704- 9, 1976.

In the above article, the authors studied the transformation of infra-slow oscillations of brain potentials in 15 patients with neuroses during 50 sessions of hypnosis. The results of such studies permitted to distinguish some important traits in the changes of infra-slow oscillations of brain potentials in different stages of hypnosis. It is concluded that a study of these changes during hypnosis may establish some correlations between the physiological state of the brain and the unconscious mental processes.


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