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GET THE FAQ'S ON HYPNOSIS: Need to know more about Hypnosis? This FAQ series was created by Todd Stark. It has a lot of information about hypnosis and answers many questions. This should answer some more of your questions.

Your Frequently Asked Questions

We are indebted to Todd I. Stark, who has been instrumental in setting up these pages, and for his permission to use them. As you probably have already noticed there is a lot of information here. This server also has information about: trainings, books and tapes about your questions about hypnosis. If you really want to practice hypnosis with other people, there is no substitute for reading about it, and taking trainings in hypnosis.

Enjoy these pages!

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the scientific study of hypnosis.

Written and maintained by Todd I. Stark, (ToddStark@AOL.COM) . July, 1993.

With much appreciation to the following people who helped by providing references or particularly useful suggestions:

  • Grant Fair, for his detailed list of sources on various physiological correlates of hypnosis, and the idea to include research on animal hypnosis;
  • Topher Cooper, for the idea of the eidetic imagery data, and his invaluable help with the research of psi data;
  • Jim Lippard, for suggestions about the section on volition and the section on physiological correlates.
  • Sidney Markowitz (sidney@apple.com) , for his recollection of the Erickson paper about lip reading and subtle communication.
  • Carol Augart Seger (seger@cognet.ucla.edu) for her posting of various useful references on attention and learning.
  • Richard E. Cytowic MD (p00907@psilink.com) for his posting of an excerpt from his new book on synesthesia, which I quoted in the memory chapter.

 

The Effects of Suggestion: From the Supernatural to the Mundane.

Scientists have studied procedures identifiable as hypnosis for 200 years. Most of the detailed investigation took place between 1950 and 1980. This was before the current medical research into the chemical links among the body systems took place. Links between the nervous and immune systems have been of particular interest recently, along with their significance in health and disease. A large percentage of the earlier research into hypnosis went into demonstrating that suggestion (traditionally an agent in the shadowy realm of the psyche) could influence various autonomic body systems in an observable manner. Today this result is considered unremarkable. However, before the days of hypnosis and biofeedback research (and before the discovery of neuropeptides, cytokines, and other mediators of autonomic functions), this was considered an incredible, even supernatural claim.

The classic hypnosis research also demonstrated that some or all people respond differently to suggestion under different conditions. Relatively little work has gone into determining the precise details of how each suggestion effect occurs, because so much of the focus has been on determining that 'something happens.' The situation is not too far from what we come across in modern anomaly research. In both areas, we need to move forward to detail what is going on in each case, rather than simply prove that something interesting is happening.

Today, there is basic agreement among most researchers that such a thing as hypersuggestibility does occur in some sense. This means that under certain conditions, unusual feats of attention control, psychosomatic regulation, perceptual distortion, and cognitive dissociation can be consistently produced in some subjects, whereas under other conditions the same subjects can seemingly not deliberately produce those same behaviors. Opinions are split about exactly what conditions cause hypersuggestibility; i.e., whether it is a unique biological state or whether it is the result of responding to the social demands and expectations of the situation. Also, there is controversy over the relationship between hypersuggestibility and cognitive dissociation. Another thing that most researchers today do agree on is that hypnosis is not the only procedure whereby such hypersuggestibility (or dissociation) may be produced.

 

Dissociation and Suggestibility: A Meaningful Grouping of Traits?

The dissociation idea, originating in psychoanalytic theory, and historically strongly linked to neuropathology, has held its ground for many years though its limitations are now becoming apparent. The term is used for such diverse conditions as unusual experiences of personal identity sense, the appearance of automatisms, and the splitting of apparent intentions in behavioral responding. These different senses of dissociation require some future research to explain their relationship and underlying mechanisms, as well as the crucial relationship between dissocation and hypersuggestibility.

The original conception of dissociation was as an anxiety defense strategy, a way of avoiding 'stress,' while gratifying other psychological needs. Without the emphasis on an anxiety defense, this idea persists today, as one standard medical reference puts it :

"... A process whereby specific mental contents (memories, ideas, feelings, perceptions) are lost to conscious awareness and become unavailable to voluntary recall..." (16th ed. Merck Manual)

This seemingly straightforward view of dissocation as mental contents lost to conscious awareness, and as an anxiety defense, is complicated however by the psychoanalytic tradition that organic disease can result from harbored resentments, disease which appears in a metaphorical form expressing the patient's unconscious feelings in a symbolic physical way. This provides a link between dissociation and psychosomatic effects. "Hysterical" or "conversion" symptoms are of psychogenic origin, and mimic organic diseases (as opposed to organic diseases being the result of psychological stresses).

Such conversion symptoms consist of about 5% of the 'neuroses' or minor anxiety disorders treated by psychiatrists, according to one 1980 study. Typical examples are unusual allergic reactions, simulated pregnancy, pseudo 2nd-degree sunburns, hysterical blindness or deafness, visual or auditory hallucinations, and other sensory or motor aberrations. Conversion symptoms appear temporary, though they may 'move' from one type or body system to another as each is addressed therapeutically.

Conversion symptoms and other psychosomatic effects are associated with high hypnotizability scores on standard scales, and also with a previous history of conversion and dissociative symptoms, implying a stable trait-like quality. This quality appears to have a genetic aspect and an early developmental trigger as well. The correlation of psychoanalytic dissociation and hypnotic suggestibility is further supported by the observation that hypnosis is frequently helpful in alleviating conversion symptoms, yet often results in symptom substitution, and that hypnosis is also frequently helpful in dissociative disorders as well.

 

Two "psychosomatic types," the Fantasy Prone and the Alexythymic

The seeming loose correlation of psychosomatic symptoms, hypnotizability, and 'fantasy proneness' (in the Barber and Wilson sense ) seems almost too neat a correlation to be true, and it probably is too neat to be true. Common clinical observation is that the typical psychosomatic patient, the alexythymic (term coined by Nemiah and Sifneos), is unable to verbalize emotions or to sustain elaborated mental representations. A number of psychoanalysts have noted that psychosomatic patients engage in primarily 'operational thinking,' are typically highly oriented toward the concrete, at least in therapy, that they show marked poverty of imagination and symbolization.

This is the opposite of what we would expect from the prototype "fantasy prone personality," (of Wilson and Barber, for example) who might well be described as an imaginative and even visionary individual. This seems to tell us that psychosomatic effects are not as limited to a particular personality type as some theories in the past had proposed. It also seems to further implicate internally-directed emotional self-awareness as a factor in intentional control of psychosomatic regulation, rather than in psychosomatic illness (or healing) itself. This also makes sense in light of the various theories which propose that the limbic system, in conjunction with the frontal cortical lobes, is critical for intentional psychosomatic self-regulation.

 

Dissociation versus Situational Factors.

Evidence has been mounting steadily that different distinct 'states' of the nervous system can occur in the same person at different times, and even in the same person at the same time, illustrating the apparent biological capacity for dissociation.. The former is demonstrated in the rare condition of Multiple Personality Disorder. The latter is demonstrated in the bizarre perceptual anomaly of blindsight, where brain-damaged visually impaired individuals can be demonstrated to have a kind of perception in their consciously blind visual field. In addition to this evidence of cognitive dissociations, evidence has also been mounting emphasizing the influence of personal and social expectations on human behavior. Teasing apart what state factors are most important and what situation-related expectations are most important in any given situation is a crucial matter for future research.

The controversial case of the 'hidden observer' in hypnotic analgesia (apparently independent responses from the same person at the same time under certain experimental conditions) appears to be swaying the argument in favor of a dissociation view of hypnosis in the case of exceptional subjects, but this debate is likely not over yet. It seems likely that social psychological factors will need to be considered as well in considering how suggestibility varies.

 

Hypnosis as distinct from Suggestion

Evidence has been mounting steadily that different distinct 'states' of the nervous system can occur in the same person at different times, and even in the same person at the same time, illustrating the apparent biological capacity for dissociation.. The former is demonstrated in the rare condition of Multiple Personality Disorder. The latter is demonstrated in the bizarre perceptual anomaly of blindsight, where brain-damaged visually impaired individuals can be demonstrated to have a kind of perception in their consciously blind visual field. In addition to this evidence of cognitive dissociations, evidence has also been mounting emphasizing the influence of personal and social expectations on human behavior. Teasing apart what state factors are most important and what situation-related expectations are most important in any given situation is a crucial matter for future research.

The controversial case of the 'hidden observer' in hypnotic analgesia (apparently independent responses from the same person at the same time under certain experimental conditions) appears to be swaying the argument in favor of a dissociation view of hypnosis in the case of exceptional subjects, but this debate is likely not over yet. It seems likely that social psychological factors will need to be considered as well in considering how suggestibility varies.

 

Hypnosis as distinct from Suggestion

Current theoretical frameworks appear to be moving toward an even clearer distinction than we had in the past between the hypnotic induction process and the resulting condition of hypersuggestibility. Most classical hypnotic induction is indistinguishable from other means of helping to induce a relaxed condition in the body. Also, a number of experiments have demonstrated enhanced suggestibility under conditions where the body is not relaxed (suggestion works outside of hypnosis).

The common link between most situations of hypersuggestibility appears to be a narrow selective focus of attention. This is something which seems to result from such diverse conditions as sensory isolation, relaxed attentiveness, and extreme fear. There does not appear to be a single common general EEG pattern in hypersuggestibility, or which makes hypnotized individuals distinguishable from awake ones, though there are hints of possibly unique evoked potential responses during periods of enhanced suggestibility.

One of the more intriguing recent theories is that hypersuggestibility may somehow also be mediated by the immune system and other chemiclly linked autonomic systems rather than the brain alone. A two-way chemical feedback loop has been discovered to operate between the nervous and immune systems, but it will take further research to determine its relationship to suggestibility and psychosomatic illness and healing in general.

 

What is the neurobiological basis of suggestibility and of dissociation?

Traditional cortical inhibition theories hold that hyper-suggestibility is the result of inhibition of the cerebral cortex (and thus the usual 'critical faculties') due to some sort of override by lower brain centers. This has proven to be an overly simplistic way of looking at it. A more recent version of that former Pavlovian theory is that the left cerebral hemisphere is somehow selectively inhibited during conditions of hyper-suggestibility.

This is an expression of the popular culture view of 'left-brained' and 'right-brained.' As for most behavior, there will likely be evidence for a differential contribution from the asymmetric cerebral hemispheres in hyper-suggestibility, but so far differential hemisphere activity itself does not seem to be the primary mechanism of enhanced suggestibility.

We have good reason at this point to think of enhanced suggestibility as a common endpoint toward which a number of methods can lead in some or all human beings. Hypnotic induction is only one of these methods. There are also very good indications that there is something special about some forms of dissociation that merits further investigation into just what cognitive functions become split, under what conditions these splits occur, and how they occur. It is also of great interest how dissociation relates to various anomalous phenomena (such as extrasensory perception, psycho-kinesis, and others) that have long been associated with 'dissociative states.'


Contents:

1. What is hypnosis? How did the various concepts of hypnosis evolve?

Hypnosis arose out of an operator-assisted altered state induction model.

The cultural origins of the concept of hypnosis

The scientific deconstruction of hypnosis

2. What is hypnotic trance? Does it provide unusual physical or mental capacities ?

"Trance" descriptive or misleading?

Are there potential clues in 'trance logic?'

So what is trance logic?

Criticism of trance logic.

Trance as distinct from sleep or stupor.

"Trance Reflex" and the appearance of stupor.

Evidence of enhanced functioning following suggestion?

"Mind and Body" in modern medicine.

Hypermnesia, perceptual distortions, hallucinations, eidetic imagery.

Posthypnotic suggestion and amnesia.

Pain control (analgesia and anesthesia).

Dermatological responses.

Control of bleeding.

Cognition and learning.

Enhanced strength or dexterity.

Immune Response

Highly extraordinary experiences while under hypnosis.

Bizarre remembrances under hypnosis

Psychic phenomena under hypnosis

Experiences of extraordinary personal significance

3. How reliable are things remembered under hypnosis?

4. Can anyone be hypnotized or only certain people? The search for the 'hypnotizability trait.

Hypnotizability

The "Fantasy Prone Personality"

Can hypnotizability be modified?

5. Can I be hypnotized against my will, or forced to do things I wouldn't ordinarily do? Hypnosis, volition, and mind control.

Is the hypnotist in control of me?

Voluntary vs. Involuntary

Conscious vs. Unconscious

6. What should I read to learn more ? A selected bibliography on hypnosis and related topics in science and philosophy of science.


 
 

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