As part of our core module ‘Social Behaviour and Development’ (which all psychology single subject and combined subjects take in 3rd year), Andrew Colman has been teaching us about the background, major phenomena, debates and theories behind hypnosis.
I thought I would write a bit about this as it’s been quite a fun part of the module, with many strange videos!
As well as the well used hypnotic techniques we may be very aware of, such as people instantly falling asleep, there are some less spoken about ones that are rather peculiar… for instance, some people are able to put themselves into such a relaxed state that they are unable to feel pain. The following link, for example, shows a man having a hernia repair under self-hypnosis with no general anaesthesia : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sClE-xm-P8A . Although, he genuinely appears to feel no pain, some skeptics of hypnosis argue that pain is a subjective phenomenon, that is not measurable and so people might be in pain but just not realise it
Another hypnosis phenomena is something called the hidden observer in which participants experience a strong sensation, such as an electric shock but are unaware that they are really feeling it, but instead refer to themselves in the 3rd person. When asked why they reacted in a particular way (i.e. jumped at the shock) a person may say ‘“I don’t feel anything, but she seems uncomfortable.” This may suggest a dissociated part of the brain, where one part feels an experience and another is shut of from it.
Hypnotic amnesia is when a hypnotist selects something for a hypnotic participant to completely forget when they awake from hypnosis, until otherwise told . The following link shows a woman totally unable to place/remember the number 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye3iS2gTOPk
Age regression is another example of what can happen using hypnotic suggestion. Susceptible participants can give very convincing enactments of themselves at a young age, i.e. a 3 year old at the birthday. Whilst this may at face value look like people are literally experiencing earlier mental states or reliving past experiences,, researchers later found that hypnotic age progression can also occur. i.e. a 21 year old acting as their 70 year old self. As, obviously they have never experienced being 70, this may suggest some sort of social compliance is involved.
All these different hypnotic practices and peoples experiences of them, have led to many different interpretations of what they really are. In general, people either take a sceptical view or a credulous view. The sceptical viewpoint is that hypnotic subjects behave in the way they are expected to, regardless of what they are really feeling/seeing/hearing (involves social psychology ideas of obedience to authority, social demands…). A credulous view, on the other hand, argues that the hypnotic participant really does experience what is suggested to them.
Hopefully this has got your minds ticking. I’m still not sure what side i’m on in the hypnotic debate but it’s interesting to think about 🙂