Theories of Hypnosis

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Hypnosis and state explanation

Hypnosis is regarded as a level of consciousness because it appears to be a special state of awakeness. When a person is hypnotised, they report feelings relaxed, awake but inwardly focused and responsive to the hypnotist. An observer can see the changes in hypnotic subjects, one possible explanation of this is that hypnosis is a special state; alternatively the effects experienced by a hypnotised individual might be explained by other psychological explanations such as social factors. This is the state versus non-state arguments. 

A state explanation is that the hypnotic subjects may appear to be in a trance, state theorists argue this is an altered state of consciousness which differs from our normal state.  The neodissociationist view held by Hilgard (1977) suggests hypnotic experiences happen because of a dissociation of cognitive systems. The influence of the hypnotist separates levels of cognitive processing so that we are aware of some aspects of our thinking but not others, the ones we are aware of cause hypnotic experiences such as hallucinations. 

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Real Vs Fakers

Real Vs Fakers:

If hypnosis is a different state then it should be possible to tell the difference between someone who is truly hypnotised (real) and a simulator (fake). In an observation of behaviour when the hypnotist left the room, Evans and Orne (1971) found hypnotised subjects continued to respond longer than the simulators, they showed a stronger post hypnotic response. The difference between real and fakers is of an underlying difference in the abilities of individuals e.g. simulators have been found to be poorer at imagining and acting ability, makes simulation more transparent to individuals. 

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Hidden Observer

Hidden Observer: Hilgard (1977) suggests that the hidden observer provides access to an otherwise unavailable level of consciousness i.e. the level that has become dissociated from conscience experience. E.g. hypnotic analgesia can be used to mask the pain normally felt when holding a hand in very cold water-when asked if they feel pain, a hypnotised subject says no but the hidden observer feels pain. 

Unique brain states: Some aspects of the hypnotic experience are not seen in any other situation-suggesting hypnosis is a special state. E.g. Kosslyn et al (2000) found distinctive brain activity patterns associated with hypnosis and other waking states. 

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Remarkable Physical Feats

Remarkable physical feats:

Have been claimed under hypnosis, the response of a hypnotic subject to the suggestion that they are as stuff as a board can be placed with their heads and ankles supported for a long time. This may not be exclusive to hypnotised subjects. Druckman and Bjork (1994) reports that without hypnosis, highly motivated people demonstrate strength, stamina, learning and perceptual abilities compared to hypnotised ones. The neodissociationist view suggests there is evidence from the brain which is physiological; this suggests hypnosis produces a distinct state.

Using PET scans, Rainville et al (1997) showed hypnotic analgesia produced a reduction in brain activity relating to attending to painful stimuli without affecting the process of sensory information itself. Further evidence shows differences between hypnotised and non-hypnotised states E.g. Williams and Gruzella (2001) have shown brain activity is different in hypnosis and relaxation. Egner et al (2005) reported consistent differences in anterior cingulated gyrus function between hypnotised and non-hypnotised participants. 

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Non-State Explanations

Non-state explanations suggest that hypnotic induction affects behaviours such as relaxation, imagination, and compliance, thus making ‘hypnotic’ individuals behave differently from ‘waking’ ones. The socio-cognitive theory of hypnosis (SCT)-according to Graham Wagstaff (1986) hypnotic induction does not result in a different state but it changes two processes –compliance and belief. Compliance: The process of obedience and conformity by Miligram and Asch are related to compliance, which describes the behaviour of someone who is conforming, obeying.

Compliance refers to situations where a person changes their behaviour but not their attitudes to go along with others. In hypnosis, the subject complies with the expectation of the hypnotist-e.g. a subject who is offered a suggestion is likely to oblige by creating that feeling-the subjects are motivated to comply to avoid the embarrassment to failing hypnotism or to avoid appearing disobedient. If the subjects are merely compliant then we would expect some of them to admit they are pretending. However they don’t, even when appeals are made to their honesty. Spanos (1986) suggests hypnotised subjects fail to admit to pretending as they have invested heavily in the role of being hypnotised and this causes them to reinterpret their experiences.

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Non-State Explanations (continued)

Belief: Compliance is volitional-a person decides on what to do, though a hypnotised person believes their responses are volitional-they can’t help themselves. Valins (1966) offers some insight-male participants were required or to rate images of semi nude females, the men were then given false feedback about their heart rate-i.e. thought it was faster that it was. The men rated there photos as more attractive presumably because they thought their increased heart rate meant they were more attracted to the photo. When interviewed later, they tried to excuse their judgement by using strategies where noticing previously unidentified features. Like hypnotic subjects, they mis-interpreted information and tried to offer rational explanations for their behaviour. The ESC process: hypnotic subjects may seek experiences which confirm the hypnotist’s suggestion-they may interpret feelings in their body. The task for a hypnotic subject has 3 components:1.      Decide what the hypnotic wants 2.      Employ cognitive strategies to produce experience and 3.      Resort to behavioural compliance

Wagstaff calls this ESC process (expectation, strategies and compliance) e.g. hypnotic amnesia suggests subjects forgetting are a requirement of the situation and they either employ inattention to block memory or fake it. A key strength of the non state view over the state approach is that it attempts to explain, rather than describe the experience of the subject e.g. hypnotic amnesia-suggests the subject is unable to recall lost items because the state prevents recall-this is a circular argument. 

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