What is a hypnotic "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
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
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.