What is a hypnotic "trance" ?
Reflex" and the appearance of stupor
So the question remains, if
trance is not sleep or stupor, then why do hypnotized subjects commonly
appear so passive?
The consensus on this subject,
from studies of 'waking hypnosis,' ('trance' in which the subject acts
normally and does not show any evidence of the classical relaxed deep
trance state), and from many years of clinical observations, is that the
apparent lethargy and catalepsy are more a result of suggestions used
to deepen hypnosis than a necessary correlate of suggestibility or trance
itself in general. In a way, a side-effect of trance rather than a quality
or cause of trance. There is also seemingly a temporary but distinct immobilizing
reflex following certain kinds of stimuli used in some hypnotic inductions.
This may help provide a temporary or initial facilitation of hypnotic
suggestibility in some people, according to some theories.
Monotonous visual stimuli,
surprise, fear, physical restraint, and a number of other factors have
long been observed to produce 'trance' with fixation (followed by defocusing)
of gaze, narrowing or attenuation of externally focused attention, general
immobility, and various physiological changes which resemble the correlates
of relaxation and internally directed (visual) attention in humans.
Perhaps the most routine observance
of this is with people gazing into television sets or in the familiar
case of 'highway hypnosis.' It appears that this type of 'trance' induction
often precedes the production of hypnotic suggestion phenomena, and can
occur prior to any verbal suggestions, from proprioceptive or visual stimuli
alone. It is probably closest to the traditional view of the hypnotist
swinging a watch to put their subjects 'to sleep.'
One means of searching for
the basis for this seemingly reflexive trance response is from phylogenetic
data, using animals. A similar response occurs in monkeys and other animals
under both laboratory and natural conditions, as an apparent passive defensive
response (resembling death) under certain extreme conditions.
Various Russian researchers
investigating animal hypnosis seem to have discovered electroencephalographic
correlates of this animal 'death trance' which resembles the initial trance/inhibition
effect that sometimes precedes human hypnotic suggestibility. They report
an interhemispheric asymmetry of the brain, which a recent Russian email
journal article, (Petrova E.V., Shlyk G.G., Kuznetsova G.D., Shirvinska
M.A., Pirozhenko A.V., HYPNOSIS IN MACACA RHESUS IS CHARACTERIZED BY DIFFERENT
PHASES AND INTERHEMISPHERIC EEG ASYMMETRY), summarizes as being
"created as the result
of the activation of the right hemisphere."
- Simonov P.V. The Motivation
Brain, Gordon a. Breach Pub., N.Y.-L., 1992.
- Kuznetsova G.D., Nezlina
N. I., Petrova E.V. Dokl. Akad. Nauk, 1988, 302:623.
- Petrova E.V., Luchkova T.I.,Kuznetsova
G.D. Zh. Vyssh. Nerv. Deyat. 1992, 42: 129.
As evidence of a correlation
between right hemisphere cortical activity and human hypnosis, they cite:
- Gruzeiler J., Brow T., Perry
A. et al. Int. J. Psychophysiol., 1984, 2:131.
- Meszaros J., Growford H.J.,
Nady-Kovacs A, Szabo Cs., Neuroscience, 1987, Suppl. 22:472.
One investigation into the
relationship of primate behavior and electrical activity of the brain
(EEG) involved 45 male Macaca Rhesus monkeys seated in a primatologic
chair and observing the oscillation of a shining ball, 4 cm in diameter,
placed 15 cm in front the animal's eyes for 15-20 minutes.
In this experiment, six of
the monkeys immediately stopped motor activity. At first their eyes were
fixed on the ball, then muscle tonus weakened, eyes became unfocused,
and respiration slowed. These same symptoms appeared in the remaining
animals, although they developed slower. During the first 2-3 minutes
of the stimulation, the slower responding monkeys showed a negative reaction
to the ball (a monkey abruptly turned away or tried to push it away).
Then the negativism ceased and the first signs of inhibition appeared:
yawning, scratching, and obtrusive hand motions.
Finally, what the experimenters
call the 'hypnotic state' ensued; eyes fixed on the ball, the animal became
calm, and closed its eyes. This state continued from several seconds to
several minutes and could be observed several times during an experimental
session. In 12 monkeys that displayed orienting or aggressive response
to the ball, visual signs of inhibition were not observed under these
conditions. Further physical restraint (fixation of hands and trunk) resulted
in the 'hypnotized' behavior. This is in contrast to the more usual behavior
of monkeys, what the authors of the article call the 'freedom reflex'
which results when they are taken from their home cages and placed in
the primatologic chair.
As they describe the EEG observations:
"The electrical activity
of monkey brain cortex before hypnosis was characterized by a robust
polyrhythmia and presence of theta- and beta-rhythms. In one monkey
the alpha-rhythm was dominate. During hypnosis, slow activity (delta
and theta) with increased amplitude appeared, periodically alternating
with low-amplitude activity. Power spectrum maps showed that in the
low-amplitude phase the decrease in the power of all rhythms was paralleled
in three monkeys with robust beta-1 rhythm with a predominance in the
left hemisphere. In the high-amplitude phase, delta and theta-rhythms
dominated in the right hemisphere."
"The analysis of the coherence
and correlation functions showed the decreased relationship between
hemispheres (especially in the frontal cortical areas) under hypnosis
and its increase during relaxation (as compared to the background)."
"The analysis of the EEG
showed that in the brain of hypnotized monkeys interhemispheric asymmetry
appears: the domination of the theta- and delta-rhythms in the right
hemisphere or beta-rhythm in the left hemisphere - depending upon the
phase of hypnosis."
Factors shown to facilitate
this "animal hypnosis" include vestibular (pose in the chair) and somatosensory
(fixation) stimuli and emotional stress (fear), novelty to the experimental
conditions, and additional proprioceptive (restriction of the motor freedom)
and visual influences. Various sources seem to indicate similar factors
which operate on the corresponding 'trance response' in humans.
In addition to the 'trance reflex'
which is seen to sometimes accompany or precede hypnotic induction, the
factor of 'trance logic' which surfaces under deep trance also adds to the
catatonic appearance, as the primitive language capacity in trance logic
could easily contribute to the appearance of stupor. But the individual
is actually, in general, wide awake and thinking, and in control of themself,
but extraordinarily focused on their internal experience, and on the voice
of the hypnotist.
"... the general tendency
of the hypnotic subject to be passive and receptive is simply expressive
of the suggestibility of the hypnotic subject and hence a direct result
of the suggestions employed to induce hypnosis and not a function of
the hypnotic state."
Milton Erickson, circa
The most obvious reason to
make this distinction is to dispel the popular myth that a hypnotized
person is unconscious or unable to respond to emergencies, or to oppose
the will of the hypnotist if they should wish to do so. In fact, Erickson
did a famous detailed study of attempts by the hypnotist to force their
will on hypnotized subjects, and observed that not only did the subjects
discriminate what suggestions they would and would not respond to, and
refused to respond to some, but then often came up with ways to hurt or
humiliate the hypnotist in retaliation for the attempt. And that they
were even more selective about what suggestions they would not respond
to under hypnosis than they were normally!
Another reason this distinction
is made is because of extraordinary skills of some hypnotists to 'induce
trance' (gain a unique kind of compliance or communication) with people
who had not been prepared or relaxed by a classical induction, and who
in fact steadfastly and effectively resisted all attempts at classical
induction of trance.
A third reason is that we observe
in some hypnotic phenomena that an individual can be hypnotized, with
the help of a traditional progressive relaxation procedure for example,
and then "remain hypnotized" (equally responsive to suggestion) long after
leaving the state of physiological relaxation and classic apparent catatonia.
So, the 'trance,' though it may in fact start with a process similar to
that which commonly leads to sleep, or may start with the 'trance reflex,'
it is not dependent upon stupor, nor even necessarily relaxation.