Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Myth of the Analytical Hypnotic Subject

It has been said that the organisms most frequently experimented on are the laboratory rat and the college sophomore, because they are the most available to academic researchers. The differences in hypnotic responsiveness which are commonly used in psychological research have been obtained when data are gathered under standardized testing conditions such as a college classroom.

The Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, Form A (Shor & Orne, 1962) is modeled after the experimental approach originally begun by Clark Hull (1933). It contains a script consisting of a light hypnotic induction, followed by a list of twelve suggestions in increasing order of difficulty, from "easy" ones which almost anyone can pass, to more difficult items such as the inability to shake one's head "no" when challenged, or amnesia for most of the test items until after a prearranged signal has been given. Since its initial publication in 1962, the test has been used in dozens of studies all over the world, in order to give us a greater understanding of individual differences in suggestibility.

In a typical administration, in a class setting of about thirty people, there are there are from one to three high responders who obtain a perfect score of twelve on the test, one or two people who will obtain a score of zero on the test, just sitting there with their eyes open, looking around the room with a mixture of curiosity and boredom, and the rest manifesting varying degrees of responsiveness in between. Data of this type have been gathered by now at many colleges and universities around the world, and has yielded a great deal of useful information about differences between high and low responders. Many useful inferences can be drawn from Measuring sugestibility as a personality trait, and I have collected some of it myself (Gibbons & de Jarnette, 1972).

Now let's perform a thought experiment. I would like you to imagine that the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility is being given to a class of introductory psychology students when a person dressed in a police uniform bursts into the room and says in a loud, commanding voice, "There is an active  shooter in the building. Take refuge under your desks immediately and await further instructions!

Even if such an announcement had been a hoax (i.e., a cleverly-designed suggestion) thought up by a dissident student organization to disrupt the orderly running of campus activities, if it were to be conducted in a sufficiently convincing manner, everyone in the class -- including the instructor -- would probably cower under their desks until they were found by the next class which was scheduled to use the room. What happened to the "analytical  subjects" who were supposed to be impervious to suggestion? What happened to the individual differences in hypnotizability which the Harvard Group Scale was supposed to measure? They simply ceased to exist!

Outside of the narrow confines of the classroom, however, suggestibility is the rule rather than the exception, which is why entrenched political and religious opinions are so hard to change. 

References

Gibbons, D. E. & De Jarnette, J. (1972). Hypnotic susceptibility and religious experience. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 11(2), pp. 152-156. 

Hull, C. L.  Hypnosis and Suggestibility. New York: Appleton-Cenntry, 1933.






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