What is a hypnotic "trance" ?
of enhanced functioning following suggestion?
Some of the 'unusual capacities'
often claimed of hypnosis are actually legitimate, but found to be quite
normal capacities seen in various non-hypnotic situations as well, though
the hypnotic 'deep trance' context does apparently give a unique kind
of access to those normal capacities. Seemingly a product of the unique
sort of attention control found in hypnotic responding.
"Trance permits the operator
to evoke in a controlled manner the same mental mechanisms that are
operative spontaneously in everyday life."
T.X. Barber, a highly respected
researcher into human functioning under hypnosis has long promoted the
view that people can bring out their own inner capabilities by direct
requests to think, feel, and experience in a suggested way, without any
need for hypnotic induction. He says that the secret of hypnosis involves
the ability to fantasize in a hallucinatory way and provide the drama
and excitement. Also important, according to Barber, is the way in which
suggestions are given, language which gives firm but metaphorical suggestions.
Keith Harary, in his March/April
1992 Psychology Today article, "The trouble with HYPNOSIS. Whose power
is it, anyway?" reviews a number of critical studies of hypnosis and concludes
a similar view:
"Packaging them [the
true claims made about hypnosis] under the label 'hypnosis' conceals what
is really going on. It doesn't even begin to suggest that they are our
very own powers and there might be ways to get at them directly and entirely
on our own."
2.7.1. 'Mind and
Body' in medicine
We see that there is little
of any consistency that can be said about light trance objectively, and
possibly only 'trance logic' (if that) as a common characteristic of deep
trance. Yet the subjective experience of the individual is sometimes very
And some phenomena can be reliably
reproduced in good subjects which are medically considered very unusual
and hard to explain (though not necessarily limited to hypnosis situations).
The working medical framework that had traditionally cleanly separated
psychogenic from physiological effects has been revised in parts to allow
for some of the mechanisms related to effects found in good hypnotic subjects;
such as influences between neural and immunological systems, dermatological
(skin) responses that were previously believed not to be able to be influenced
by the brain and nervous system, and the difficult but demonstrable 'biofeedback'
ability to indirectly control very small neural units previously considered
In terms of the prevailing
medical paradigm, numerous functional interconnections within the brain
and between the nervous system and other body systems have been found
that may gradually help to explain such remarkable effects as we see in
hypnosis and under various other seemingly special psychological conditions.
Among other key discoveries, the study of neuropeptides and their distribution
throughout the body as well as the brain provides some potential answers
for some of the more perplexing questions arising from effects due to
Richard Benson's "relaxation
response" research pioneered in this area, and a great many studies since
then have validated his ideas about psychological and physiological functions
greatly influencing each other. Two recent article that are fairly typical
are in the June 1989 issue of the mainstream medical specialty journal
Gastroenterology, "Hypnosis and the relaxation response" and "Modulation
of gastric acid secretion by hypnosis."
An excellent review of the
research into the exact physiological effects found to result from hypnotic
suggestions in particular may be found in these two of T.X. Barber's articles
- "Physiological effects of
'hypnosis,' Psychological Bulletin, 58: 390-419, 1961
- "Physiological effects of
'hypnotic suggestions': a critical review of recent research (1960-1964),"
Psychological Bulletin, 63: 201-222, 1965.
In addition to these general
references, the following sections may help to follow-up on any interest
into various specific apparent unusual effects of suggestion.
perceptual distortions, hallucinations
Hypermnesia is perceived enhanced
recall of memories. See also the later section on the reliability of hypnotic
An excellent overview of experimental
and clinical studies of hypermnesia, perceptual distortions, and hallucinations
under hypnosis may be found in the hypnosis section of the Annual Review
of Psychology, especially these issues spanning 20 years of research into
- Vol 16, 1965, E. Hilgard,
- Vol 26, 1975, E. Hilgard,
- Vol 36, 1985, J.R. Kihlstrom,
Another related area is the
remarkable phenomena of eidetic imagery, or 'photographic memory.' In
recent years, this formerly controversial phenomenon has been demonstrated
by means of computer generated random pixel patterns which stereoscopically
encode a visual image. There would be two images which, one seen by each
eye at the same time, produce a three dimensional visual image. It is
considered virtually impossible to detect the encoded image by looking
at the separate encoded patterns at different times. People with eidetic
imagery can memorize one pattern, and then mentally project it with one
eye while looking at the other pattern with the other eye. The result
is that they can see the three dimensional image, while apparently no
amount of motivation will permit someone without eidetic imagery to see
the final image.
It is now known that many five
year old children can experience eidetic imagery, and that it is very
rare in adults. A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology
in 1975 (and a follow-up three years later) demonstrated that the rate
of eidetic imagery in adults hypnotically regressed to age five was comparable
to that in actual five year olds.
This could be interpreted as
evidence of true temporal regression in hypnosis in some sense, although
that interpretation seems unlikely in the face of evidence in other areas.
It is more likely to provide unique evidence of state-specific abilities
accessible through hypnotic suggestion.
The following are the studies
- Walker, Garrett, & Wallace,
1976, "Restoration of Eidetic Imagery via Hypnotic Age Regression: A
Preliminary Report," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85, 335-337.
- Wallace, 1978, "Restoration
of Eidetic Imagery via Hypnotic Age Regression: More Evidence," Journal
of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 673-675.
In addition, Michael Nash in
his chapter "Hypnosis as Psychological Regression," in Lynn and Rhue's
1991 Theories of Hypnosis discusses the evidence around different kinds
of psychological regression and also refers to an unpublished manuscript
by Crawford, Wallace, Katsuhiko, and Slater, from 1985, which is said
to also discuss positive evidence for the facilitation of eidetic imagery
phenomenon with hypnotic techniques: "Eidetic Images in Hypnosis, Rare
suggestion and amnesia
Amnesia (basically selective
forgetting in this case) sometimes occurs spontaneously in hypnosis, and
sometimes happens as the result of a direct or indirect suggestion to
forget something. The amnesia effect may last a variable time, possibly
months or longer, depending on the psychological significance of the amnesia
and the forgotten material and on the intensity of attempts to recall
and availability of recall cues in the environment.
A posthypnotic suggestion in
general is a response to hypnotic suggestion that extends beyond the boundary
of the actual trance period. Posthypnotic suggestions are often performed
without any knowledge that they were previously suggested (thus the necessary
link to hypnotic amnesia of this phenomena). The individual responding
to a posthypnotic suggestion and with amnesia for the source of the suggestion
will generally incorporate the response into their ongoing activities
without disruption, in a similar manner to ritualized actions that we
pay little attention to such as brushing our teeth in the morning or making
the right sequence of turns in our well established route to work each
morning. If the response involves some bizarre action, the individual
will either be confused or typically will come up with a creative rationalization
for the behavior. Very rarely will there be any awareness of the action
resulting from a previous suggestion.
It is the contention of many
experts in hypnotic work that individuals can and do resist posthypnotic
suggestions that they do not wish to perform, except that implicit trust
of the hypnotist may promote a behavior out of the ordinary. This is sometimes
(especially per Orne) considered more a factor of the relationship between
the hypnotist and subject than a matter of any capacity to use hypnosis
to coerce a person without their knowledge. The later section on hypnosis
and volition will cover this in grater detail.
See the following sources of
information on post-hypnotic research, in addition to the Hilgard article
in Vol. 16 of Annual Reviews (1965), cited above:
- W. Wells, 1940, "The extent
and duration of post-hypnotic amnesia," Journal of Psychology,
- Edwards, 1963, "Duration
of post-hypnotic effect," British Journal of Psychiatry, 109:
- Dixon, 1981, "Preconscious
Various studies have also been
done to try to determine what kinds of psychological pressure will cause
hypnotic amnesia to be breached, and under what conditions.
Schuyler & Coe, "A physiological
investigation of volitional and nonvolitional experience during posthypnotic
amnesia," Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 40(6):1160-9,
1981 Jun was a good example.
Highly responsive hypnotic
subjects, who were classified as having control over remembering (voluntaries)
or not having control over remembering (involuntaries) during posthypnotic
amnesia, were compared with each other on four physiological measures
(heart rate, electrodermal response, respiration rate, muscle tension)
during posthypnotic recall. Two contextual conditions were employed: One
was meant to create pressure to breach posthypnotic amnesia (lie detector
instructions); the other, a relax condition, served as a control. The
recall data confirmed earlier findings of Howard and Coe and showed that
voluntary subjects under the lie detector condition recalled more than
the other three samples that did not differ from each other. However,
using another measure of voluntariness showed that both voluntary and
involuntary subjects breached under lie detector conditions. Electrodermal
response supported the subjects' reports of control in this case. Physiological
measures were otherwise insignificant. The results are discussed as they
relate to (a) studies attempting to breach posthypnotic amnesia, (b) the
voluntary/involuntary classification of subjects, and (c) theories of
control (analgesia and anesthesia)
Hypnosis was at one time frequently
and successfully used for surgical anesthesia. It is still sometimes used
effectively for dental work, childbirth, and chronic pain of various types.
Pain control is one of the most reliable and most studied of the hypnotic
n addition to Hilgard's article
in Vol 26 of Annual Reviews (1975) see:
- Hilgard, Hilgard, Macdonald,
Morgan, and Johnson, 1978, "The reality of hypnotic analgesia: a comparison
of highly hypnotizables with simulators." The authors find that motivated
simulation of hypnotic analgesia is easily distinguished from hypnotic
- Hilgard and Hilgard, 1983,
"Hypnosis in the relief of pain" (book)
- In 'Evaluation of the efficacy
and neural mechanism of a hypnotic analgesia procedure in experimental
and clinical dental pain,' 4,41-48, Pain, 1977, J. Barber and D. Mayer
reported that effective analgesia was produced by a refinement of hypnotic
technique, and was not reduced by naloxone. J. Barber, neuropsychiatry
at UCLA, seems to have somewhat specialized in this area.
- Another 1977 study, Stern,
Brown, Ulett, and Sletten, 'A comparison of hypnosis, acupuncture, morphine,
Valium, aspirin, and placebo in the management of experimentally induced
pain,' Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 296, 175-193, found
that acupuncture, morphine, and hypnotic analgesia all produced significantly
reduced pain ratings for cold pressor and ischemic pain.
- Van Gorp, Meyer, and Dunbar,
'The efficacy of direct versus indirect hypnotic induction techniques
on reduction of experimental pain,' International Journal of Clinical
and Experimental Hypnosis, 33, 319-328, 1985 (with cold pressor pain).
- Tripp and Marks, 1986, compared
hypnosis and relaxation with regard to analgesia for cold pressor pain
in 'Hypnosis, relaxation, and analgesia suggestions for the reduction
of reported pain in high- and low-suggestible subjects,' Austrailian
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 33, 319-328.
- H.B. Crasilneck et al.,
1955, "Use of hypnosis in the management of patients with burns," Journal
of the American Medical Association, 158: 103-106.
- D. Turk, D.H. Meichenbaum,
and M. Genest, (1983), Pain and behavioral medicine: a cognitive-behavioral
perspective, New York: Guilford Press has a review of cognitive-behavioral
strategies for pain control in general, not limited to hypnosis.
- In Larbig W. Elbert T. Lutzenberger
W. Rockstroh B. Schnerr G. Birbaumer N. EEG and slow brain potentials
during anticipation and control of painful stimulation. Electroencephalography
& Clinical Neurophysiology. 53(3):298 -309, 1982 Mar., EEG corrrelates
of pain control were studied.
Cerebral responses in anticipation
of painful stimulation and while coping with it were investigated in a
"fakir" and 12 male volunteers. Experiment 1 consisted of 3 periods of
40 trials each. During period 1, subjects heart one of two acoustic warning
stimuli of 6 sec duration signaling that either an aversive noise or a
neutral tone would be presented at S1 offset. During period 2, subjects
were asked to use any technique for coping with pain that they had ever
found to be successful. During period 3, the neutral S2 was presented
simultaneously with a weak electric shock and the aversive noise was presented
simultaneously with a strong, painful shock. EEG activity within the theta
band increased in anticipation of aversive events. Theta peak was most
prominent in the fakir's EEG. A negative slow potential shift during the
S1-82 interval was generally more pronounced in anticipation of the aversive
events that the neutral ones, even though no overt motor response was
required. Negativity tended to increase across the three periods, opposite
to the usually observed diminution. In Experiment 2, all subjects self-
administered 21 strong shock-noise presentations. The fakir again showed
more theta power and more pronounced EEG negativity after stimulus delivery
compared with control subjects. Contrary to the controls, self-administration
of shocks evoked a larger skin conductance response in the fakir than
warned external application.
Some of the most interesting
hypnotic phenomena involve the apparent precision production of subtle
skin responses by suggestion. Allergic reactions, pseudo-sunburns, blisters,
and weals have been produced by suggestion. In addition, it has long been
known that certain highly troublesome skin conditions have been influenced
or healed in some people by suggestion (with or without hypnotic induction).
See the following for further
information on studies of this:
- Ullman & Dudek, 1960, "On
the psyche and warts: II. Hypnotic suggestion and warts," Psychosomatic
- Rulison, 1942, "Warts, A
statistical study of nine hundred and twenty one cases," Archives
of Dermatology and Syphilology, 46:66-81.
- Asher, 1956, "Respectable
Hypnosis," British Medical Journal, 1: 309-312
- R.F.Q. Johnson and T.X.
Barber, 1976, "Hypnotic suggestions for blister formation: Subjective
and physiological effects," American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis,
- Mason, 1955, "Icthyosis
and hypnosis," British Medical Journal, 2: 57-58.
- M. Ullman, 1947, "Herpes
Simplex and second degree burn induced under hypnosis, American Journal
of Psychiatry, 103: 828-830.
Experiments with hypnosis during
surgery have found that suggestion during and after surgery can reduce
bleeding significantly, as well as help with the management of pain.
See Clawson and Swade, 1975,
"The hypnotic control of blood flow and pain: The cure of warts and the
potential for the use of hypnosis in the treatment of cancer," American
Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 17: 160-169.
This is a broad area covering
a number of factors that are difficult to separate. In addition to the
critical review by Barber in 1965 cited above in (1), see G.S. Blum, 1968.
"Effects of hypnotically controlled strength of registration vs. rehearsal,"
Psychonomic Science", 10: 351-352, which discusses hypnosis
as a possible way of reducing rehearsal needed to learn something new.
In some of his publications,
researcher Charles Tart discusses the concept of state-specific abilities,
including the possibility that some might apply to hypnotic phenomena.
See his States of Consciousness, and other related works for more on this.
strength or dexterity
The effect of hypnotic suggestion
in apparently enhancing physical performance under certain conditions
seems to relate to the unusual control over focus of attention available
in hypnosis, which permits improved concentration and increased motivation
in some athletes, and can be used to modify or lessen the influence of
inhibiting beliefs or attitudes. Similar effects are seen when athletes
are motivated in other ways, outside of hypnosis.
See T.X. Barber's 1966 paper,
"The effects of 'hypnosis' and motivational suggestion on strength and
endurance: a critical review of research studies," British Journal
of Social and Clinical Psychology", 5:42-50.
It has long been supposed (and
in recent years demonstrated experimentally) that emotions and psychological
state somehow have an effect on human immune response, but even though
detailed mechanisms and the limits of this effect have not been well understood
in modern medical science. A recent article in Science News, Sept. 4,1993,
pp. 153, describes 'the first solid evidence that hypnosis can modify
the immune system far more than relaxation alone."
The report concerns the research
of Patricia Ruzyla-Smith of Washington State University in Pullman and
her co-workers, who conclude that "hypnosis strengthens the disease-fighting
capacity of two types of immune cells, particularly among people who enter
a hypnotic trance easily."
This appears to correspond
well with and bolster the previous findings related to enhanced 'placebo'
(psychosomatic) effects in good hypnotic subjects, in the hypnotic induction
situation. However, it does not appear to address the persistent question
of whether highly hypnotizable subjects have a unique capacity for psychosomatic
regulation, or whether they simply exhibit this capacity common to all
of us in a uniquely accessible and convenient way by responding to hypnotic
In this research, the psychologists
recruited 33 college students who achieved a hypnotic trance easily and
32 students who had great difficulty doing so. Volunteers viewed a brief
video describing the immune system and then were assigned to one of three
groups: hypnosis, in which they listened to a hypnotic induction asking
them to imagine their white blood cells attacking "germ cells" in their
body and then performed this exercise through self-hypnosis twice daily
for one week; relaxation, in which they floated effortlessly in a large
tank of warm water containing Epsom salts and repeated the session one
week later; or neither method.
Students who underwent hypnosis
displayed larger jumps in two important classes of white blood cells than
participants in the other groups. The greatest immune enhancement occurred
among highly hypnotizable students in the hypnosis group.