Hypnosis, volition, and mind control
Who or what is in control when
a hypnotist gives a suggestion, and their subject apparently responds,
but reports that they had no awareness of responding? Is it the same mechanism
in some ways as that in control during biofeedback experiments when the
subject has no direct awareness of altering markers of their physiological
functions? Or is it closer to the mechanism that permits the well known
'automatisms' or behaviors performed by habit outside our awareness? Or
are these all aspects of the the same mechanism in some way?
These behaviors have all long
been called 'involuntary' responses, and this iswhat provides the impression
that the hypnotist is directly controlling the subject. Weitzenhoffer in
1974 called this the "Classical Suggestion Effect,"the "transformation
of the essential, manifest, ideational content of a communication" into
behavior that appears involuntary.
What exactly does it mean for
a behavior to appear to be involuntary? In their 1991 Theories of Hypnosis,
Lynn and Rhue identify three distinct views of involuntariness in hypnosis:
- The experience of diminished
or absent control over a behavior
- The inability to resist
- An automatic response, experienced
as effortless and uncaused by the subject, but with a capacity in reserve
to resist if desired.
#1 above, apparently
a blocking of awareness of feedback about a behavior, is a common experience
in hypnosis. Some theorists contend that this kind of experience is actually
the defining characteristic of hypnosis.
#2 above has very few
supporters today. Most modern hypnosis experts agree that their subject
can and does resist undesirable suggestions. Even the neo-dissociation
viewpoint, which holds that cognitive function can split into differing
factions, never admits to a complete relinquishing of control of the 'will,'
more a removal from a usual high level executive planning function.
#3 above is the most
controversial of the three views. The subjective perception of non-volition
in hypnosis is widely agreed upon, and the idea of at least a latent capacity
to resist suggestions in some way is also pretty much agreed upon by experts.
But the notion of effortless response with no active involvement by the
individual is controversial. The social-psychological view holds that the
individual is actively carrying out the suggestion, the neo-dissociative
view holds that the individual's volition is 'split' and that they are
actively carrying out the suggestion with one part, and accurately reporting
a lack of volition with another part. The older ideomotor theory held that
the response was a direct result of the suggestion, presumably some automated
language-behavior response mechanism ('the unconscious') that they believed
a hypnotist could tap in to.
The final details of what aspects
of the social psychological view, what aspects of the neo-dissociative
cognitive view, and what aspects of various others are actually the best
description for various hypnotic phenomena are largely up to future research