Martin Theodore Orne, M.D., Ph.D., emeritus professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, died February 11, at the age of 72. He was a professor in the School of Medicine for 32 years before becoming emeritus professor in 1996. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1927, Dr. Orne received his M.D. degree from Tufts University Medical School in 1955, with a residency in psychiatry at Massachusetts Mental Health Center, and a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University in 1958. Upon coming to Penn in 1964, Professor Orne established and directed the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry, a research laboratory in the School of Medicine that has conducted uninterrupted scientific research for 36 years.
As teacher, scientist and practicing physician, Orne was widely recognized for his work in hypnosis, memory, biofeedback, pain management, lie detection, sleep and the roles played by specific and nonspecific factors in psychotherapy and behavioral medicine. He also pioneered new therapeutic approaches and perspectives on patients' rights. He published the first of hundreds of scientific papers in 1951 and was editor of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis for 30 years. He was also the recipient of two honorary doctorate degrees, and awards for lifetime contributions from the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
Throughout his prolific and distinguished career, he collaborated with his wife, psychologist Emily Carota Orne, research associate in the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine. Dr. Orne was known internationally for his clinical and scientific insights into questions of fundamental concern to psychiatry and its interface with the practice of psychotherapy, medicine and the law. This is amply illustrated in his basic and applied research on the distorting effects of hypnosis on memory, which shed new light on how memory works, and on the manner in which hypnosis should be used to avoid misdiagnosis of psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple-personality disorder.
The experiments on hypnosis and memory-distortion performed in Professor Orne's laboratory helped establish that uncritical use of hypnosis could lead to false memories. The research was cited in more than 30 legal cases by state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, and it resulted in widely adopted guidelines restricting the use of hypnosis in forensic cases. Dr. Orne chaired a blue-ribbon panel that helped establish the American Medical Association's standards for the forensic use of hypnosis. His work on psychotherapy and memory also helped expose the controversial practice by some psychotherapists of using suggestive techniques that encouraged the creation of false memories of trauma in their patients.
An expert witness in legal cases involving coercion and memory distortion, Orne was one of four defense psychiatrists who examined kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst during her trial for bank robbery. He remained convinced of her innocence and more recently urged that she be pardoned. His involvement as an expert for the prosecution in the case of Kenneth Bianchi, who was convicted in the torture and murder of young women in the hillside strangler serial murders of the 1970s, was featured in the Emmy-award winning documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Mind of a Murderer.
He also pioneered new therapeutic approaches and perspectives on patients' rights. Twenty-five years after he treated Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton, and 15 years after her death, Orne released to a biographer tape recordings of psychotherapy sessions with Sexton, who had given permission for the tapes to be made and released. The publication of the biography in 1991 resulted in a widespread debate in the psychotherapy community regarding who can release confidential material. Orne's view that the patient ultimately has the right to have such confidential material released was upheld by legal experts, ethical scholars and the American Psychiatric Association.
Professor Orne's contributions to academic psychology were also extensive, and included his seminal work on how human subjects perceive experiments. His analysis of the social context of human experimentation helped elucidate the importance of "demand characteristics," a concept he articulated in a classic paper entitled "On the social psychology of the psychological experiment: with particular reference to demand characteristics and their implications" (American Psychologist, 17: 776-783, 1959). This manuscript, which was among the most widely cited in psychology for nearly two decades, demonstrated that, in experiments, volunteer subjects respond to a wide range of cues (demands) based on their perceptions of the purpose of the experiment. The appreciation of the role of demand characteristics in human experimentation fundamentally altered the way in which experimentalists and clinicians evaluated the reactions of subjects, clients and patients. In short, Martin Orne brought to psychology the cognitive world of the volunteer subject before the field of cognitive psychology was named.
Professor Orne's interest in promoting scientific research on the mind and its role in health, well being and safety resulted in the establishment in 1961 of the nonprofit Institute for Experimental Psychiatry Research Foundation, for which Dr. Orne served as Executive Director until his hospitalization last year.
Dr. David Dinges is professor of psychology in psychiatry, chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology; and director of the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.