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5. Hypnosis, volition, and mind control


5.2. Voluntary vs. Involuntary

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:

  1. The experience of diminished or absent control over a behavior
  2. The inability to resist a suggestion
  3. 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 to determine.



 
 

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