Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals)
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Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals)

The Exploration of Phenomena and Process

Peter W. Sheehan, Kevin M. McConkey

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals)

The Exploration of Phenomena and Process

Peter W. Sheehan, Kevin M. McConkey

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The subject of hypnosis has not lost any of its ability to fascinate and intrigue – and this holds equally true for both the layperson and the student of hypnotic behavior. Phenomena of hypnosis range from simple tasks involving ideomotor response to more complex tasks involving substantial distortions of perceived reality such as age regression, hallucination, and amnesia. Obviously, with a topic so diverse and so interesting, there are plenty of books around. Originally published in 1982, what makes this title stand out is the authors' focus: instead of trying to survey the whole field and evaluate the full spectrum of theories about hypnosis, they hone in on specific points of view with the aim of illustrating the nature of hypnotic phenomena.

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1 Consciousness and Altered Awareness


In this book we aim to analyze the meaning of the experience of the hypnotized individual. Because hypnotized individuals feel and experience events in a way that frequently suggests they are experiencing some considerable degree of alteration in their normal state of awareness, it is important to come to grips with the notion of consciousness in studying hypnosis in both its clinical and experimental applications. Initially, however, if we are to understand the differences that exist between people in the nature of their hypnotic experiences, it is essential to understand the general nature of consciousness and altered awareness in the broad context of psychology.
The psychology of today has very much returned to consciousness, and the era of narrow behaviorism has passed (E. R. Hilgard, 1980; McKeachie, 1976). The discipline is now firmly demarcated by cognitive approaches to psychological phenomena, and exploration of how cognitions are formed, regulated, and changed has become an integral part of its study. It is now eminently respectable, for instance, to talk about the behavioral manifestation of consciousness while at the same time asserting the value and meaning of the subjective concomitants of that behavior.
Consciousness derives from the interaction of an organism with his or her environment (Pribram, 1976a), but where explanations of human behavior were previously couched in terms of a limited set of determinants, personal and environmental influences are viewed by contemporary psychology as being interdependent. A person's environment is no longer considered an autonomous force that orchestrates his or her behavior; rather, as Bandura (1978) notes: "psychological functioning involves a continuous reciprocal interaction between behavioral, cognitive, and environmental influences [p. 345]." By our own social and cognitive actions we play an active role in creating the environment that influences us.
Contemporary theorizing in personality has seen a steady progression through unidirectional accounts of the interaction between people and their environment, where persons and situations are treated as independent entities that combine to produce behavior, to more complicated bidirectional accounts emphasizing reciprocal interactions, where behavior, internal personal and cognitive factors, and environmental influences mutually operate as interlocking determinants of each other (Bandura, 1978). Internal personal factors including our conceptions, beliefs, and self-perceptions have come to be seen as important to the explanation of the type of behavior that we display; our efficacy and outcome expectations, for example, strongly influence how we behave, and the environmental effects created by our actions in turn alter our expectations (Bandura, 1977).
There is a wide variety of theories that attempt to come to grips with the existence and properties of consciousness. Personality theories of functioning are coming to acknowledge and primarily stress the human capacity for conscious judgment and intention (see, Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1981). Much of cognitive theory, however, has accepted a more materialistic position that attempts to explain consciousness and its properties in terms of detailed information-processing accounts of cognition. These stress concepts such as the organized nature of conscious experience, its limited capacity, and its control function (Shallice, 1978). Viewed in this way, Atkinson and Shriffrin (1971), for example, regard consciousness as corresponding to the contents of a short-term memory system of quite limited capacity; alternative limited-capacity approaches have been adopted by others (e.g., Posner & Klein, 1973; Posner & Snyder, 1975) in similar fashion.
Information-processing accounts of cognition, however, have themselves recently taken a more subjective turn, and this is especially evident in the emergence of the field of social cognition where script theory (Abelson, 1976, 1981), for example, is viewed as an alternative way of thinking about behavior. Abelson (1976) defines a script as a: "coherent sequence of events expected by the individual, involving him either as a participant or as an observer [p. 33]." According to this view, our acts are firmly embedded in a network of our prior experience, which is concrete, idiosyncratic, and often imageable (Taylor, 1976).
Social psychologists are also returning to the position that one of the best ways to find out what people are doing is to ask them, thus emphasizing the essential role that verbal processes play in defining the operations of our conscious experience. This role is an especially critical one for those interested in understanding the nature of hypnotic phenomena. We turn now to consider the general nature of consciousness as it has been conceptualized by contemporary psychology.

The Meaning of Consciousness

Basically, the term "consciousness" has been used in three distinct ways (Battista, 1978). First, it is used as a theoretical construct denoting the system by which an individual becomes aware; second, it refers to reflective awareness—our awareness of being aware; and third, it is frequently used as a general term that encompasses all forms of awareness and is relevant across diverse fields of psychological inquiry. One can, in fact, look on the interested, attending, and conscious person as someone who heeds his or her surroundings (Pribram, 1976a). Viewed in this way, a wide variety of characteristics emerges as important, suggesting the need to explain how we see, look, remember, and even talk. The approach to consciousness that we are taking here is necessarily broad in scope. A brief review of the different uses to which the term can be put illustrates the utility of arguing for a generalist orientation and sets the stage, as it were, for addressing the inherent complexity of hypnotic consciousness.
Battista (1978) argues that the use of consciousness just as a theoretical construct is limiting because the term is commonly used to refer to experience rather than provide us with the means of explaining it. Similarly, restricting the term to reflective awareness creates problems because it may fail to incorporate experiences that occur before the development of such awareness (as in childhood) and also experiences that take place without reflective awareness (e.g., dreaming). Consciousness seems better employed as a general term that allows us to refer to many different forms of experience or awareness that can shift or alter gradually (or dramatically) in response to internal as well as external conditions of stimulation. Referencing consciousness in this way emphasizes the fact that the events of consciousness are complex and varied; they incorporate, for instance, images in a variety of sensory modalities and in every degree of believability, vividness, and realism, including hallucinations, reveries, inner dialogue, and dreamlike sequences (Klinger, 1978).
If a single definition of consciousness fails to reach consensus, it is even more difficult to define the notion of an altered state of consciousness. As Marsh (1977) indicates, certain changed states are easy to index and are enough a part of our everyday experience that they can be readily accepted and defined as altered or alternate states (e.g., drug intoxication and sleep states can be regarded in this way). The demarcating features of an altered state of consciousness begin to blur, however, when we consider daydreaming and certain states of reflection and meditation. Argument can then be made as to whether the differences among the alternate states are a matter of degree (E. R. Hilgard, 1979a; Singer, 1977) or whether they, in fact, reflect obvious discreteness (Tart, 1976). For instance, Marsh (1977) points out that it is difficult to know just where: "deep contemplation in a usual state of consciousness become(s) a meditative alternate state [p. 9]." The problem is especially apparent when one considers the extent of redundancy in the information presented to the senses. In this respect, Singer (1977) argues that the absent-mindedness or seeming distraction of the creative scientist or artist may indicate less of a shift to an altered state of consciousness than a finely honed capacity for assigning high priority to concentrating on private, ongoing streams of thought.
The term "altered state requires special discussion. The notion of "altered state of consciousness" has come to be rejected by some in the consciousness literature as an inappropriate way of classifying changed awareness. Zinberg (1977), for instance, objects to the word "altered" because it conveys the implication that such states represent a departure from the way consciousness should be. Zinberg (1977) prefers the term "alternate" because it more clearly conveys that: "different states of consciousness prevail at different times for different reasons and that no one state is considered standard [p. 1]." Viewed in this way, our usual state of consciousness is simply classified as one specific instance of the category "alternate" state. Whatever the choice of term, there is no basis for the assumption that our ordinary state of consciousness represents the way that consciousness ought to be. Many of the phenomena that we experience in our usual state of consciousness are unusual, but because they are so familiar to us, we simply do not attend to them a great deal (Tart, 1980).
The essential emphasis of definitions of altered (or alternate) states is usually on the qualitative features of subjects' shifts in consciousness (Sheehan, 1979c). Taking hypnosis as an example, it is not simply a matter of people experiencing more imagery, or forgetfulness, or anesthesia; rather, the claim is that the nature of the mental processes themselves is altered. A person does not just fail to remember what he or she is told if amnesic, for instance; the person cannot remember despite the effort that is spent in recalling. It is as if a barrier is present to prevent the memories coming to awareness, although this barrier may be reversed with the appropriate signal. Gill (1972) argues that the notion of altered state should explicitly convey the fact of reversibility. Persons experiencing an alternate state of consciousness experience a transient or temporary, rather than permanent, reorganization of psychological functioning.
It is important to recognize that altered or alternate states of consciousness should not be defined in terms of the content of consciousness; rather, appeal should be to structure. Hallucinations, for instance, do not simply occur in hypnosis. They can and do occur across a variety of states of consciousness including those resulting from meditation, drug intoxication, and psychopathology. The most distinctive feature of states of consciousness lies clearly in their overall organization (Pribram, 1976a, 1976b; Rappaport, 1957; Tart, 1975). The same elements, for example, exist in hypnosis as may exist in a dream or even in routine awareness. Tart (1972b, 1975, 1980) places considerable emphasis on this distinction between process and content, arguing that states of consciousness result from the interaction of different subsystems (e.g., perception and memory); it is the modes of organization involving these subsystems that constitute the distinctiveness of the state in question, and the pattern of interaction among the subsystems gives the state of consciousness its recognizable identity. States of consciousness, for example, are not demarcated in terms of specific memories that are forgotten or objects that are hallucinated, but in terms of the changes in interaction or altered configuration among the subsystems that result in the modified organization. This distinction between process and content explicitly acknowledges the important fact that changes in process are critical to the definition of an alternate state, not variation in content.
Just as qualitative changes in the patterning or organization of consciousness denote the presence of an alternate state, quantitative changes in patterning usually indicate a shift in the depth of consciousness. Tart (1975) captures the distinction in an analogy regarding the differences between boats, cars, trains, and planes. Depth of consciousness is more like the miles per hour measurements within each of these modes of transportation being considered rather than differences in the modes of transport themselves. However, a problem exists with respect to the degree to which qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) features may change with the concept still retaining its meaning. Let us illustrate the point again with respect to hypnosis.
The next chapter looks at hypnotic abilities in some detail, but at the outset hypnosis can be said to tap the following range of skills: the capacity to combine thought and action in an imaginary way (as in hand lowering or arm levitation); the capacity to experience suggestions where the hypnotist challenges the subject to be able to respond (as in fingerlock or arm immobilization); and the capacity to distort reality and cognitively experience events that have no basis in the real world (as in hallucination or amnesia). As one proceeds from ideomotor performance to cognitive-delusory performance on standard hypnotic test scales, it is difficult not to reserve the term "state of hypnosis" for performance on the more difficult items—those that appear, at least, to represent more marked changes in quality of awareness and experience. The hypnotized person who hallucinates and is amnesic normally interests investigators most in hypnosis, not the person who can hold his or her arm out and feel it heavy as it begins to fall down with the weight of an imagined object.
Although the changes in organization or patterning that occur in alternate states of awareness are qualitative rather than quantitative, it is nevertheless important to recognize that states of consciousness themselves may vary over time. This variation contributes to alterations in the depth or degree of the state concerned, and such variation can also occur from one alternate state to another. As Marsh (1977) states the point: "Within each state ... the ceaseless change and variability fail within ranges of tempo, imagery, and intensity [p. 22]." Although the essential elements of one state may equally pertain to alternate states, it is the changes in the way in which the elements are organized or patterned that most likely will lead to the awareness of the experiencing person that the state is somehow different.
Not always, however, is awareness of the usual state lost in alternate states of consciousness, and knowledge of this fact is important in any attempt to understand hypnotic consciousness. In daydreaming, for example, the dream frequently occurs in a context where we know that we are daydreaming. Similarly, in hypnosis, persons never completely lose touch with their ordinary everyday frame of reference and at times may not even be aware that consciousness has changed. A subject who is fully amnesic for the events of trance, for instance, may be irritated at what seems to be a puzzling "lapse" of memory.
The ways in which reality features of the environment are processed by the hypnotized person are, in fact, more complicated than assumed in the current literature. Our understanding of that processing underscores the inherent complexity of hypnotic consciousness and helps us to understand the appreciable differences that exist in such consciousness among highly susceptible persons themselves. The subject in hypnosis who reports not hearing anything relies on some contact with reality to recognize auditorily the hypnotist's command: "Now you can hear again." The implicit conflict in that situation may be resolved in a variety of ways by susceptible subjects, as we see in the chapters to follow.
Behavior that indicates at one and the same time that a subject cannot hear (when the hypnotist tests for deafness) and can hear (when the hypnotist verbally instructs the subject to hear) has been labeled paradoxical, and there is much that is apparently incongruous about such hypnotic responses. The paradoxes in question, however, express the fact that simultaneous registration of suggested and real events characterizes many so-called alternate states of awareness, not just hypnosis.
When noting the significance of reality processing, it is important to recognize that the structure or patterning of consciousness that characterizes waking may have altered in the changed state but rarely fades completely. It does fade enough, however, so that experiencing subjects can frequently be aware of a disruption in their usual waking consciousness. Insistence on the presence of a dramatic qualitative change in consciousness as the yardstick for judging hypnosis or any other altered state of awareness is misleading. Change can be gradual rather than dramatic, and sometimes it seems that the changes occurring in hypnosis appear to reflect alterations of monitoring and control processes rather than changes in the quality of consciousness per se. As E. R. Hilgard (1979a) notes, a hypnotic subject who is hallucinating somebody, but who also acknowledges the real person as present, may report that the two persons being seen look completely alike. In this instance, the quality of consciousness appears the same; the alteration is more in the way the presentations are monitored and controlled by the hypnotized person. Perhaps the most compelling evidence to support the relevance of altered monitoring functions to the understanding of hypnosis is the evidence available on the hidden observer phenomenon that has been collected by E. R. Hilgard (1976, 1977) and his associates. Some hypnotized persons (but not all, and not all who are highly susceptible) indicate through automatic writing or talking that pain is being experienced even though neither pain nor suffering is indicated in the analgesic state by the normal method of verbal report. It may well be, then, that hypnosis involves us in talking about different kinds of altered or alternate states of awareness for different kinds of persons, even those who are highly susceptible. This is a theme that we return to often in the chapters to follow.
Normally speaking, states of consciousness have specifiable sets of characteristics that define them, and certain common features can be delineated that are relevant to their study, hypnosis included. Generally speaking, alternate states of consciousness lead to modifications in thinking that may incorporate impairment of reality testing, loss of volition, perceptual distortions, and increased susceptibility to accept and respond to statements as they are suggested (Ludwig, 1969). This last feature appears to be a special characteristic of hypnosis where argument is made that responsiveness to suggestion occurs in a context where the subject typically demonstrates a redistribution of attention, a heightened ability for fantasy production, and an appreciable reduction in reality testing (E. R. Hilgard, 1965).
Shor's (1959, 1962) notion of loss of generalized reality orientation theoretically captures the statelike features of hypnosis in this regard. Shor argues that in hypnosis our everyday waking orientation fades into the background so that experiencing the present comes to be detached or isolated from our ordinary frame of reference. This fading is accompanied by an increase in primary process levels of mentation and psychological functioning, the processes being involved leading to a reduction in alertness and critical thinking and a facilitation of imagery-based forms of cognitive activity. Secondary characteristics are reported as well. Gill and Brenman (1961), for example, discuss split-second hesitations, frozen postures, memory lapses, and alterations in body movement where hypnotized persons may indicate shifts in bodily awareness, even in the absence of specific instructions by the hypnotist. Although a number of theorists in the field of hypnosis tend to agree in a descriptive sense about the different features of hypnosis that are implied by the terms "altered state" (see E. R. Hilgard, 1965, 1969; Orne, 1959), they nevertheless differ appreciably in the processes that they associate with the state characteristics that they recognize and the theoretical frameworks in which they prefer to embed them. Gill (1972), for example, talks of changes in reflective awareness, voluntariness, and diminution in reality testing as "regression in the service of the ego."
E. R. Hilgard (1976, 1977) and others (e.g., Bowers, 1976) focus on the significance of the process of "dissociation"; Orne (1974) emphasizes the relevance of "delusion" as the most important intrapsychic process for understanding hypnotic phenomena; and Sarbin and Coe (1979) choose to appeal to more socially defined processes of explanation such as the concept of "self-deception."

Mind-Body Relationships

Discussion of consciousness and its alternate forms demands at least some general comment on the models of the mind implied by the term consciousness and how the data bear upon the different positions that can be taken. There are three main approaches to consciousness (Battista, 1978): dualistic, monistic, and holistic. Dualistic approaches stress that physical and mental states are separate; monistic accounts assert that only o...


  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Original Title
  5. Original Copyright
  6. Dedication
  7. Contents
  8. Preface
  9. Half Title
  10. 1. Consciousness and Altered Awareness
  11. 2. The Assessment of Hypnosis: A Survey of Measuring Instruments
  12. 3. The Experiential Analysis Technique
  13. 4. Ideomotor Response in Hypnosis
  14. 5. Age Regression and Tolerance of Incongruity in Hypnosis
  15. 6. Hypnotic Dreams and Hallucinations
  16. 7. Posthypnotic Amnesia
  17. 8. Cognitive Persistence: A Case Analysis
  18. 9. Modified Applications of the EAT
  19. 10. Overview and Conclusions: Toward the Understanding of Phenomena and Process
  20. References
  21. Author Index
  22. Subject Index
Estilos de citas para Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals)

APA 6 Citation

Sheehan, P., & McConkey, K. (2015). Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals) (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1642326/hypnosis-and-experience-psychology-revivals-the-exploration-of-phenomena-and-process-pdf (Original work published 2015)

Chicago Citation

Sheehan, Peter, and Kevin McConkey. (2015) 2015. Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals). 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1642326/hypnosis-and-experience-psychology-revivals-the-exploration-of-phenomena-and-process-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Sheehan, P. and McConkey, K. (2015) Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals). 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1642326/hypnosis-and-experience-psychology-revivals-the-exploration-of-phenomena-and-process-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Sheehan, Peter, and Kevin McConkey. Hypnosis and Experience (Psychology Revivals). 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.