Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Friday, February 9, 2018

What is Hypnosis?

Some people grow up never knowing that they are color blind. They have to take a test similar to the following samples from the Ishihara Color Blindness Test in order to find out. They are shown a series of plates which are carefully constructed so that regardless of what color they are,  the same of amount of light is reflected from each of the tiles of which they are composed.  Some the tiles that are of different colors than the others are arranged in the form of numbers.  Between twelve and twenty percent of the white male population, and a tiny fraction of females will not be able to see any numbers in the plates reproduced below. Can you



Why is such a test necessary? Because color-blind people believe that they are no different than anybody else, this causes them to operate in a "cultural trance" in which they gloss over very real differences in their experiential abilities.

A hypnotic induction and deepening procedure may be thought of as  a "hypno-blindness test." A certain percentage of the population, more imaginatively gifted than the rest, is naturally capable of visual and auditory hallucinations, insensitivity to pain, and all of the other phenomena that we associate with high hypnotizability.  But, like those who grow up never knowing that they are color blind until they are tested for it, these experientially gifted individuals also operate in a cultural trance which makes them gloss over real differences in their experiential abilities until they are tested.

What does hypnosis do to change things? A recent thread on Hypnothoughts asked people to describe the most unique induction they knew. After the obviously humorous ones were removed, the only thing the remaining ones appeared to have in common was that they were all suggesting or implying that the subject's consciousness was beginning to function differently.  When a hypnotist suggests that someone's consciousness is beginning to function differently, this removes their cultural blinders and, if they are sufficiently able and willing, frees them up to use their imagination in what to the rest of us appears to be an "Alice-in-Wonderland" fashion.

Exceptions do occur, of course, when people manifest hypnotic-like behavior without an induction. But, without social validation for our perceptions, we are usually quite hesitant about appearing to be very much different from those around us. As I have stated elsewhere, if I were to walk up to an imaginatively gifted person, ask him to close his eyes, and suggest, with no previous induction, that by the time I got to the count of five he could open his eyes and see me dressed in a Santa Claus suit and hat, he would usually think that I was crazy. And if such a suggestion should actually happen to work, he would probably think that he was crazy! But if I first suggested that he was "going into hypnosis," using some sort of an induction proxedure to make such a sufggestion sufficiently plausible,then he can use the power of his imagination to do whatever he or she is able and willing to do with these abilities until the session is concluded by suggesting that he is no longer hypnotized.

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 I have just referred to are reliably 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 are 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. (I have collected some of it myself.)

Now let's perform a thought experiment. I would like to ask you to imagine that the Harvard Group Scale is being given to a class of introductory psychology students at the American University of Beirut, let us say, when a person dressed in a police uniform bursts into the room and says in a loud, commanding voice, "The city is under biological attack, and a germ cloud is headed this way. Take refuge in the basement immediately and await further instructions!"


Even if such an announcement is 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 dash for the exits and head for the nearest underground shelter. What happeed to the individual differences in suggestibility which the Harvard Group Scale was supposed to measure? They simply vanished, as everyone took flight!


A high degree of responsiveness to the impostor's suggestions would occur regardless of how an individual student might have scored on the suggestibility test which was currently underway. Notice also that the subjects would probably have been totally involved in the content of the impostor's suggestions: trembling, feeling frightened, weeping, crying out in alarm, and so on. In human society, suggestion appears to be causally related to experiences as diverse as falling in love,coming under the sway of a totalitarian dictator,being saved in a revival meeting,or turning into an animal (transmogrification),as practiced in Native American culture. Individual differences in responsiveness, if they exist. do not seem to attract much attention.,


Hypnotizability, however, does seem to be related to suggestibility as it is measured on the Harvard Group Scale. But even here, if the standardized testing conditions are departed from. individual differences seem to vanish or be considerably diminished. Many practicing hypnotists will assure you that in clinical settings, these measured differences are less than reliable. Once their doubts and fears have been eliminated by an appropriate pre-hypnotic talk, some people respond to hypnosis poorly, most people respond to some extent, and a few others respond extremely well. A number of techniques have been developed to "hypnotize the un-hypnotizable" by convincing the low-responders that they too have been hypnotized.When this is done, they not only respond better on suggestibility tests then those who have not accepted this idea, but they also respond better in therapy (Lynn & Kirsch, 2006).

Regardless of whether the induction takes you up, down, or sideways, you're hypnotized if you think you are!  I use this kind of suggestion-enhanced experience in my psychology practice every day in order to facilitate the acceptance of subsequent therapeutic suggestions which are actualized more easily because the induction has made them more credible..
Print References
Hull, C. (1933). Hypnosis and Suggestibility. New York: Appleton-Century.


Shor, R, E., & Orne, E. C. (1962).Harvard group scale of hypnotic susceptibility, Form A/Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Lynn, S. J., & Kirsch, I. (2006).Essentials of clinical hypnosis: An evidence-based approach.Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.





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