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Discuss the theories of hypnosis
Hypnosis is regarded as a `level of consciousnesses because it appears to be a special state of
awakeness. When hypnotised, people report feeling relaxed, awake but unwardly focused and
responsive to the hypnotist (rather than self-motivated). An observer can also see changes in
hypnotic subjects, such as suggestibility to ideas from the hypnotist, increased imagination and ability
to enact a role. One possible explanation of these features is that hypnosis is a special `state', i.e. an
altered level of consciousness induced by the hypnotic procedure. Alternatively, the effects
experienced by a hypnotised individual might be explained by other psychological processes, such as
social factors. This is the `state' versus `non-state' argument.
The state explanation suggests, a hypnotic subject may appear to be in a trance. State theorists
argue that this is an altered state of consciousness, differing from out normal state as, for example,
sleeping does from wakefulness. Non-state explanations suggest that hypnotic induction affects
behaviours such as relaxation, imagination and compliance, thus making `hypnotised' individuals
behave differently from `waking' ones.
Other than hypnotic recall, hypnotic regression and hypnotic reincarnation or time mesmerism, there
are other uses for hypnosis. One example is the control of pain. Before ether and chloroform
hypnosis was widely used with surgical patients. For some time now hypnosis has been successful
when anaesthetics cannot be used and in the treatment of chronic pain (Hilgard and Le Baron 1984).
Hypnosis has also been used in medical areas where patients have a high degree of fear and
misinformation such as dentistry. As pain is affected by tension and anxiety, techniques such as
hypnosis that help to relax the patient is useful.
The state theory consists of the dissociation model. The `hidden observer' is a part of consciousness
which is aware of events surrounding the hypnotic experience. This can be shown by using the cold
pressor test, which seems to show that conscious self awareness can be dissociated from other
forms of behaviour. Hilgard (1977) whose dissociation model proposes that is hypnosis experiences
are dissociated or separated from each other by `amnesiac barriers' through hypnotic suggestion,
which can determine which experiences are accessible to conscious awareness. An important feature
of the Hilgard model is the `hidden observer'. This is a component or segment of consciousness which
remains aware during the hypnotic experience providing a route to awareness and able to comment
on the actions and feelings of the hypnotised participant and is demonstrated by the cold pressor
test and in other ways. For example Hilgard (1973) induced hypnotic deafness in a participant but
also suggested that he should raise a ringer when asked if there was any part of him that could still
hear. Deafness was convincingly established but a finger was still raised when the question was
asked. In Hilgards view this is the hidden observer monitoring the situation and replying to the
question without the participant's awareness.
Non-state explanations of hypnosis according to Graham Wagstaff (1986), suggests that hypnotic
induction does not result in a different state but it changes two processes: compliance and belief.
Here the participant enters a social contact with the hypnotist, leading to the expectation that they
will be hypnotised and should comply with suggestions. If it is a public show there are additional
social pressures not to spoil the performance. The situation has powerful demand characteristics as
studied by Orne Spanis (1982). In support of non- state theorists points to other observations; all
hypnotic phenomena can be imitated by non hypnotised people, indistinguishable from the
hypnotised (Barber 1979). However this does not seem a powerful argument. People can imitate
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clinical depression successfully but that is not to say clinical depression does not exist. The crucial
point is that the hypnotised person believes they are in a different state, whilst the imitator does