Erickson, B.A. Martin T. Orne, M.D., Ph.D. 1927-2000. Feature Article in The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter, Spring 2003, 23, 1,4, 25-27.

Martin T Orne, M.D., Ph.D. 1927-2000

By: Betty Alice Erickson, M.S., L.P.C.


Martin T. Orne, M.D., Ph.D. was a highly esteemed contemporary of Milton H. Erickson. They shared a strong personal friendship as well as s a common passion for the advancement and the responsible usage of hypnosis. Orne is probably the most significant researcher that the study of hypnosis has known and we are pleased to feature some of the many facets of this man's extraordinary career.

Martin T. Orne stands as a tall figure in the world of psychiatry, psychotherapy and hypnosis. A pioneer and leader in research, experimentation and in the publication of scientifc investigation, he received multiple honors, awards and international recognition to commemorate his lengthy career as a scientist and researcher. Among them were the Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal from the International Society of Hypnosis, the Seymour Pollack Award from the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law and honorary doctoral degrees from Hofstra University and John F. Kennedy University.

In his many publications, Orne consistently demonstrated a fearless commitment to educate and define. The importance of specific and non-specific factors in both thinking and behavior and the application of those factors were recurrent themes throughout Orne's professional life. He questioned accepted ideas and ordinary thinking, never shied from controversy, and tirelessly sought to bring new understanding to real-world problems for all of mankind.


Son of a surgeon father and a psychiatrist mother, he was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1927. Shortly before World War II, the family emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City. Later they moved to Boston.



4 (continued from page 1)

Orne interrupted his college career at 18, to join the U. S. Army. In the military, he was primarily assigned to working in areas providing psychological services where he pursued his interest in hypnosis which had begun as a teenager working in magic shows! After completing his tour with, the military, he returned to college, where he was able to further pursue his interests in hypnosis and hypnotic phenomena, especially age regression.

Education and Pioneer Work with Hypnosis

Virtually everyone with whom he was in contact recognized Orne's intellectual abilities, his tireless drive and his scholarly abilities. His undergraduate advisor at Harvard encouraged him to conduct scientific experiments on hypnotic age regression for his bachelor's honors thesis. Then he urged Orne to publish the findings; "The Mechanisms of Hypnotic Age Regression: An Experimental Study," published in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1951) marks the public beginning of Orne's long held position as a thoughtful observer of the nature of hypnosis.

The study was based on age regression of hypnotized subjects. Orne compared what subjects produced in this age-regressed hypnotic state, with actual material from the person's childhood. This ambitious and technically difficult study demonstrated persuasively, that hypnotic age-regression does not accurately reproduce childhood events -- rather it intermixes adult beliefs of what might have occurred in childhood with fragmentary memories of the past. Orne's work also indicated that hypnotic age regression maintains the psychological functionality of the adult. Hypnosis does not change adult cognition to that of the immature or inexperienced cognitive functioning of the child.

Completing his bachelor's degree in 1948, with high honors, Orne spent a semester as a Rantoul Scholar in Zurich. There he was introduced to Carl Jung, and studied projective s techniques.

Returning to Harvard and completing a Master's degree in psychology, Orne decided he needed a medical education in order to understand more fully all the empirical and scientific aspects of the work that interested him so. He attended Tufts University and earned his medical degree in 1955. He then completed his Ph.D., in Psychology in 1958, from Harvard, concurrently with the first year of his psychiatric residency.

Work with Erickson

In the early 1950's he journeyed to Phoenix, Arizona, where he studied with Milton Erickson.. Erickson was already, a leading figure in hypnosis in the scientific world, and Orne was interested in discovering, in person, what Erickson considered a hypnotic trance and to expand his own clinical expertise with hypnosis. He also wanted to be able to document objective ways an observer could determine whether a person was in a hypnotic trance.

Renting a room next to Erickson's home and office, Orne spent several weeks on this project. He talked extensively with Erickson about hypnosis, sat in on some of Erickson's hypnotic work with patients and, at Erickson's suggestion, spent considerable time working with Erickson's daughter, Betty Alice (author of this article). An experienced subject, comfortable with self-hypnosis, she volunteered to participate in some special exercises. Betty Alice was given the assignment to go in and out of trance during everyday activities and conversations with Orne. Her task was to conceal the intervals of self-hypnosis, by maintaining "normal" behavior while she was in trance.

Orne spent a great deal of time that summer interacting casually in the Erickson household. Orne's focus was on discerning objective characteristics of a trance. In this, Orne and Betty Alice did not discuss whether she had gone into a trance until Orne was ready to leave for the day. Then they would talk about the time they had spent. He had the opportunity to find out when she deliberately induced self-hypnosis, and she, in turn, was able to query him about his perceptions of her trance states. Orne later reported that he valued the time spent with Erickson and his family. He credited Erickson with teaching him to be actively attuned to subtle cues provided by subject volunteers about their inner experiences and to sensitizing Orne to what he would later term the "demand characteristics" of the experimental situation.

Professional Path

Orne’s fascination with the


25 (continued from page 4)

observable qualities that defined a trance state was an important research focus throughout his career. There is still considerable debate among hypnosis researchers and scholars today as to the objective measurability of trance states.

During the second year of Orne's residency, he became a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School as well as an instructor at Harvard Medical School. During this time, he also began the Hypnosis Research Project at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. In 1960, he became a Fulbright Scholar and spent a term at the University of Sydney (Australia). When he returned to the United States, he became a senior research psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center.

In 1961, he founded the Institute for Experimental Psychiatry. He also was chosen as editor of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, which became, under his leadership, one of the 31 core journals in psychology as ranked by the number of scientific citations of the journal.

In 1962, he married Emily Farrell Carota, a graduate of Bennington College. Their professional collaboration continued until Orne's death in February of 2000. One of the many joint professional endeavors for which the Ornes are well known is their work with Ronald Shor in developing the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, published in 1962.

In 1964, Orne received appointments in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. His research laboratory moved to the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital which also became the home for the Institute for Experimental Psychiatry, with Orne as Executive Director. When that Hospital closed down in 1995, Orne's laboratory moved to the University of Pennsylvania Medical School campus. The research program, initiated by Orne, has continued under the directorship of Dr. David F. Dinges with whom Orne had collaborated in research for over 20 years. In 1996, Orne became Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry and Adjunct Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology.

Research Interests

Orne's life-long interest in the scientific study of subjective experiences led to over 150 publications and many ground-breaking concepts. He saw hypnosis as a way of examining internal personal experiences in a scientific way. He dedicated much of his meticulous research to the study of hypnosis as a phenomenon in itself and as a way of examining internal realities.

Using the stringent rules of scientific research, Orne provided real data in a field marked previously with blurry anecdotal findings. Conclusions he reached, which were later substantiated by further research, were often contrary to the way in which hypnosis had been viewed in the literature. Orne's work, along with that of the Hilgards', spurred interest in, and investigations of, hypnosis, yet even today, it remains a state which is still not fully understood and where further empirical research is still needed.

One of the 100 most cited psychologists, Orne had the arguable honor that concepts he developed and investigated scientifically, became so commonly accepted that they are now often referred to without notation of source (e.g., demand characteristics, trance logic, etc.).

Orne's definition of hypnosis as a marked alteration or even a distortion of perception, memory, or mood, emphasized the experiential aspects of hypnosis as they are influenced by the situation, the ecology, and changes in usual subjective awareness. He studied hypnosis and hypnotic trance as specific events taking place in a particular context between particular individuals.

Orne's emphasis on the context and the demand characteristics of the experimental situation guided all of his research studies. He never varied from the perspective that the social context of the experimental setting determined the ecological validity of the experimental findings. He felt that too often, in human research up through the 1950's, volunteer subjects were treated, in experiments, as though they could simply be exposed to specific experimental procedures as if they were the inanimate objects of physics experiments. He reacted against the idea of exposing subjects to a condition and simply recording the behavioral response. He felt strongly that the objective behavior could be analyzed only after taking into account its congruence with the individual's subjective experience. He viewed experimental subjects, first and foremost, as thinking, sentient beings. Their views of the situation, and the experimenter's cues and instructions, had to be taken into account in order to preserve the integrity of the findings of any psychology experiment. To this end, he never planned any experiment without including, in its design, a postexperimental inquiry in which an experienced experimenter who had not previously been part of the experiment, conducted an in-depth interview with the volunteer subject. The purpose of the procedure was to understand the subject's thoughts and hypotheses about the study in a comfortable setting where the main experimenter was not present and the subject could be encouraged to be forthright.

Orne felt experimental work in hypnosis, as well as in other fields, had to deal with separating effects produced by the experimental setting from those produced by the variable under investigation. This is a difficult contextual bind to overcome but Orne worked systematically throughout his life to isolate the experimenter/experimental effects in any research studies he undertook.

Part of his doctoral dissertation presented the idea of a "simulator" design. In this, subjects who had been tested and were not able to enter hypnosis, were asked to participate in a hypnosis experiment along with subjects who were capable of entering deep hypnosis. The main experimenter was blind as to which subjects were actually in hypnosis and which were simply responding to the cues in the situation. Being blind as to status, the main hypnotist-experimenter treated all subjects in the same manner. Such a design allows separation of the cues perceived in the situation from the subjective experience of hypnosis itself.

The experimenters working with both the hypnotized and the non-hypnotized-simulating subjects were intentionally unaware of which peo-


26 (continued from page 25)

ple were in a trance and which people were merely pretending to be in a trance. This creates, essentially, two different experiments -- one in which simulators attempt to convince the main experimenter that they are responding to the hypnotic suggestions (or he will stop the experiment) and a second experiment in which deeply hypnotized subjects actually are responding to the suggestions administered -- while the hypnotist is unaware of the status of any subject. Similarities and differences in the performances of "simulators" versus "reals" can be analyzed to determine which behaviors are likely due to the cues from the experimental setting and which are true hypnotic phenomena.

Over the years, Orne and long-time colleague and collaborator F. J. Evans refined this paradigm. One of the outcomes of this finely tuned work was a classic experiment about anti-social behaviors. Several published studies had shown that anti-social behaviors could be elicited in subjects by suggestions administered during hypnosis. However, Orne and Evans demonstrated that responding to suggestions to perform anti-social acts had nothing to do with being hypnotized in that unhypnotized subjects simulating hypnosis carried out the anti-social acts as frequently as did the hypnotized subjects. The anti-social behavior was produced not by hypnotic suggestions, but by the environment of the experiment itself. Because subjects trusted the experimenter and the experimental setting, they recognized that, in such a situation, harm would not occur to them or to others. That is, while subjects complied with the suggestion to throw acid at a research assistant, that behavior was not promoted by hypnosis but rather by the perception of being in a safe university setting.

Another experiment, results of which have now also passed into the realm of common knowledge, showed scientifically that hypnotized subjects do not surpass bounds of normal abilities. Further, with appropriate motivation, unhypnotized subjects can be put across two chairs and sat on, as well as lift unusually heavy weights.

Few of today's practitioners involved in hypnosis realize these scientifically supported tenets of modern hypnosis came from the work of Orne and his colleagues. They are so widely accepted that it's as though the ideas "have always been known."

Orne's research interests spanned not only the investigation of hypnosis but also psychophysiology. He studied responses to painful stimuli following suggestions for hypnotic analgesia. One experiment done with Evans and Thomas McGlashan on ischemic muscle pain showed that hypnotic analgesia was very real and its effects could not simply be attributed to a placebo effect. Although there was already some anecdotal evidence to show this, Orne knew research must be the foundation upon which serious clinical work is based.

Orne also studied the mechanisms and effects of EEG biofeedback training. He worked with David Dinges for more than two decades investigating the differing effects of long and short periods of sleep. Their research documented the positive effects of short naps -- prophylactic or "power" napping -- on performance, in an era when naps were viewed as simply a waste of time.

Much of Orne's research began as an offshoot of his interest in ways to counteract stress and fatigue. Part of those studies led to a project investigating self-hypnosis as a tool to manage both stress and pain in patients with sickle cell anemia. This program was particularly successful with children with sickle cell disease who otherwise suffered the agony of recurrent crisis pain.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

He and. A. Gordon Hammer wrote a lengthy article about hypnosis for the 15th edition (1974) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In it, they defined hypnosis, recounted its history, described a typical induction and discussed neural changes that were purported to occur in hypnosis. They also covered aspects of pain management and indicated that pain could be reduced by a hypnotic trance and by self-hypnosis in suitable subjects. Pain control was achieved not only by the reduction of fear and lessening of anticipation during appropriate hypnotic suggestions, but also, in some instances, by the experience of a negative perceptual hallucination of no pain. They also recognized that authoritarian methods of hypnosis, once the accepted norm, were no longer considered to be an effective method for therapeutic work.

Cooperation and the mutual achieving of a productive goal by both the hypnotist and the subject were the more usual and more effective methods of treatment.

Hypnotic age regression was also discussed. Orne and Hammer wrote that even when subjects appear to be reliving events that occurred in childhood, analysis of the memories recalled and of the cognitive developmental level is that which is available to the adult rather than to the child. They noted that many controlled studies support this perspective.

They recognized, however, that because subjects, in hypnosis, are highly suggestible, gaps in memory are often filled in with vivid details but that, due to lowered critical judgment in hypnosis, the accuracy of memories suffers. Subjects, as well as the hypnotist, then become unable to distinguish fact from fiction without outside independent verification.

In this overview for the Encyclopaedia, Orne and Hammer were careful to indicate what was proven and what was merely surmised. This information, and the results of scientific experimentation concerning hypnosis were made available to a wide and heterogeneous audience.

Forensic Work

Orne's insistence on verifiable controlled scientific experiments led some to conclude that he was an opponent of hypnosis and didn't believe anecdotal reports of results obtained in trance states. A more careful reading of his works, however, indicates Orne wanted merely scientific verification of anecdotal claims. He was a true scientist; he was neither for nor against any particular result or conclusion. He held that it was irresponsible to build diagnostic procedures and clinical interventions upon information that had not proven itself under the scrutiny of clear scientific experiments and thinking.

He helped develop the field of forensic hypnosis and ways to determine physiological indicators of deception. Early on, he recognized hypnosis is not a reliable way to find truth. Subjects can easily and deliberately lie convincingly under hypnosis. Even cooperative subjects not deliberately attempting to lie often report distorted versions of events in or after hypnosis. Memories become a conglomeration of actual accurate memories and a "filling in of gaps."

Distortions can be accepted by the subject as the "true and complete" memory of the original event and then become part of the overall memory bank of the person. Those memories, when again recalled, take on a stronger subjective component and become even more convincing to the subject and to observers because the subject is so confident of the accuracy, having "seen" the event recently because of hypnosis.

Orne's expertise and experimentally supported stances as well as his dual roles as researcher and clinician gave credence to his positions. His 1979 paper, "On the Use and Misuse of Hypnosis, in Court" published in The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, gave a framework for the forensic uses of hypnosis and began a highly charged discussion about hypnotically "recovered" memories.

Orne's position was always that to assure the accuracy of a given memory, independent corroboration was required. Even in the usual waking state, most people have had the experience of being certain of a particular memory and then finding through pictures, through incontrovertible dates, or through some other factual means that a recollection is wrong. Memories retrieved by hypnosis, "recovered memories," can be even more misleading. Not only is hypnosis a suggestible state, but subjects tend to place a great deal of reliance upon the accuracy of memories that they have retrieved in a trance state. In hypnosis, some subjects "relive" the event so vividly that they are totally convinced that "hypnotic reliving" is what actually occurred originally. It was this aspect of hypnosis that made it a serious problem for testimony in court after witnesses had been hypnotized to "refresh" recall.

Since over 4,000 police officers had been trained during the 1970's to perform "forensic hypnosis" with bystanders who may (or may not) have been in a position to view a particular crime, the number of court cases where someone who had been hypnotized to "refresh" recall, and subsequently testify, escalated during the late 1970's and 1980's. If an issue was raised, for instance, by the defense, about the witness having been hypnotized, the prosecution's argument in court, was typically that hypnosis had been used, just as notes made at the time of the event, or a diary, were allowed to be used to "refresh" one's recall. However, pre-


27 (continued from page 26)

sumably, over time, the notes or diary entries had not changed from those recorded originally. Hypnosis is quite different in that just as the adult does not suddenly acquire the perception and schemata of a child when the adult is age-regressed, so also a bystander who is hypnotized to recall more fully does not suddenly gain access to a window of the actual original event. Rather than refreshing memory, Orne pointed out that hypnosis creates a memory, often so vivid, that it induces complete confidence in details which previously were vague and fragmentary (if they existed at all).

The seriousness of the problem, for testimony in court, in determining. the "truth of the matter," becomes clear when one considers an extreme case which actually occurred such as a hypnotist telling a witness, in hypnosis, to "just lift the mask" of the perpetrator so as to identify the face -- even, though the mask was never removed during the crime!

Orne and colleagues devised several experiments to test accuracy of recall in trance. The premise that a hypnotic trance could be unduly suggestive and could lead witnesses to create memories they subsequently sincerely believed was upheld in these experiments. His papers, as well as much other scientific research further substantiating these conclusions, have been cited numerous times by state courts as well as by the United States Supreme Court.

During this time, the American Medical Association appointed Orne head of a committee to evaluate the scientific data regarding the accuracy of memories retrieved through the use of hypnosis to refresh recall. The committee's report, published in JAMA, in 1985, concluded that memories retrieved in hypnosis were a mixture of accurate and inaccurate information where neither the hypnotist nor subject nor observer could tell which was which. While in his 1979 IJCEH paper, Orne had proposed guidelines for the use forensic hypnosis, which at the time he thought were straightforward, by 1984, he had concluded that the danger of the misuse of hypnosis for retrieving memories was so great that he could no longer support the use of hypnosis to refresh memories unless there was no chance that the witness might later need to testify in court. Orne therefore proposed that the use of hypnosis to enhance memories be restricted to investigative purposes only. In other words, in an important case, where it was critical to have additional clues, so long as the authorities, law enforcement, and the witnesses were clear that, after hypnosis had "refreshed recall," testimony in court was not possible, in those investigative cases, hypnosis could proceed, according to the proposed guidelines, so long as any information retrieved through hypnosis could later be corroborated by independent physical evidence.

His expertise and research in hypnosis and related states brought Orne to national attention. He became an expert witness in a number of criminal cases. He testified in the high profile Patricia Hearst case as to the validity of the defense's claim of coercive persuasion or what is commonly known as "brain washing." Hearst had been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and later stood trial for bank robbery. Orne worked extensively with her trying to determine what happened during her nineteen months with the SLA. After his comprehensive psychological examination, he concluded she was telling the truth -- that she was kidnapped and that any apparent cooperation on her part with the SLA was due to coercive persuasion.

Perhaps most famous, however, was his work evaluating the psychological profile of Kenneth Bianchi who was a serial killer in Southern California known as the "Hillside Strangler."

After a mental evaluation, where hypnosis was used, Bianchi claimed he was a multiple personality and, as such, was not responsible for the killings. The torture and killings had been done, he said, by another personality. This claim was upheld by mental health experts for the defense who believed they were able to access this alter personality through hypnosis.

After having Bianchi undergo a series of tests, Orne concluded that Bianchi was consciously simulating hypnosis. For instance, in Orne's videotaped clinical examination, Bianchi was asked, when he said he was under hypnosis, to hallucinate his attorney. He then claimed he could see his attorney and engaged in conversation with the hallucinated attorney. Orne then had the attorney actually enter the room. Bianchi's flustered reaction to the double hallucination paradigm and his statement that one of the "two" attorneys had vanished, contributed to Orne's evaluation that Bianchi was faking hypnosis. Orne's clinical assessment led Bianchi to plead guilty.

Orne's work with this serial murderer was recorded in an award-winning documentary called "The Mind of a Murderer," filmed by the B.B.C. and played on Frontline. The film remains a classic in forensic psychological and hypnotic work.

Patient Advocacy

As though his work as a clinician, experimenter, author, editor, and professor were not enough, Orne championed patients' rights. In the 1950's Anne Sexton, then a housewife and mother, became his patient. As part of her therapy, Orne encouraged her to put her feelings in writing and eventually to take courses and write poetry. Sexton was subject to serious depressive episodes and had considerable difficulty recalling what had occurred in previous therapy sessions, especially ones where progress was made. To aid her memory, Orne began taping all her sessions and Sexton listened to the last session just before entering the next so that she could better remember the therapy and gain continuity. Sexton went on to write and teach poetry, publishing her first book in 1959, and going on to eventually be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

When Orne moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1964, she was referred to, and saw, a new therapist and later, two others. In 1974, unfortunately, Sexton committed suicide.

Fifteen years after her death, and with the explicit permission of Sexton's daughter who was also her literary executor, Orne released the therapy tapes to a professor who was chosen by the literary executor to write a biography of Sexton. She had left the therapy tapes with Orne, even though he offered them to her before his move, and Sexton asked only that he use them to help others. Nevertheless, criticism resulted from those who believed that this release of the tapes violated guidelines stating that medical records not be made public without explicit written permission of the patient. The guideline for written permission was dated in 1978, four years after Sexton's death.

Orne defended the right of the patient to have this type of material released even posthumously. He stated that, "Sharing her most intimate thoughts and feelings for the benefit of others was not only her expressed and enacted desire, but the purpose for which she lived." In 1962, Sexton had written a poem in which she said, "But you, my doctor, my enthusiast, ... you promised me another world to tell me who I was." It was this "other world" Sexton wished to share with others who were troubled in order to give them hope.

Eventually Orne's position was upheld by legal experts, ethical scholars and the American Psychiatric Association. The biography, which was published in 1991, was richer for the inclusion of Sexton's thoughts and her struggles to overcome depression.


Part of Orne's legacy is his stimulation of critical thinking, his fearlessness in stating his positions and his inquiries into and dedication to scientific objective data. He mentored and inspired students at all levels of education.

In his later years, Orne's most fervent hope was that the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry research laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, under the leadership of his friend and colleague, Dr. David Dinges, be able to carry on the research program Martin initiated. So far it has.

In addition to contributing to the scientific understanding of the nature of hypnosis, and related states, the use of his research to continue and further scientific progress was Orne's true legacy.

At the memorial service for Orne, one of the speakers was his grandnephew, Douglas Rubinson, who has since graduated from Yale and gone on to the M.D.- Ph.D. program at Harvard where he is pursuing research on the immune system -- work that Orne would have so enjoyed discussing with him. Rubinson remembered a conversation he once had with his granduncle. "Martin explained to me that the key to be a successful scientist is neither being the hardest worker nor the most intelligent. The key is to think critically and question everything. That just because you read something in a textbook doesn't make it true. And that even as an undergraduate, I should have the courage to challenge the rules and test my ideas."

The preceding paper is a reproduction of the following article (Erickson, B.A. Martin T. Orne, M.D., Ph.D. 1927-2000. Feature Article in The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter, Spring 2003, 23, 1,4, 25-27.) published by The Milton H. Erickson Foundation, Inc. ( It is reproduced here with the kind permission of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation, Inc.