Orne, M. T. A book review of Reiter, P.J. M.D., Antisocial or criminal acts and hypnosis: A case study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 1960, 8, 131-134

The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 1960, VIII, No. 2, 131-134

Reiter, Paul J. M.D., Antisocial or Criminal Acts and Hypnosis: A Case Study.

Charles C Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, 1958, Pg. 219

Although Dr. Reiter focuses on a single criminal case, his monograph deals with the general question of whether antisocial behavior may be induced by means of hypnosis. A brief but thorough review is given of experimental evidence, prevailing opinions, and case histories relevant to this issue. The major portion of this book is devoted to an extensive account of a criminal case involving hypnosis. The defendent, H, had been hypnotized and was the perpetrator of the crimes. Dr. Reiter, who was called in to examine the defendent, had minimal contact with the hypnotist. The information contained in this report is based almost exclusively on H's account given in hypnosis and evidence obtained by the police.

The defendent was a young man who was sent to prison for collaboration with the Germans during their occupation of Denmark. At this time in his life he found himself to be extremely disillusioned and depressed. In prison he encountered a man whose professed knowledge of the occult fascinated him. The two became friends, worked in the same shop, and shared a cell. From that time on, and for many years thereafter, they "experimented" with yoga and hypnosis (though they never used this term). The hypnotist ("N") succeeded in placing the defendent (H) in a deep somnambulistic trance and convinced him that the means to salvation was through a renunciation of material objects and a concentration on matters of the spirit. N, the hypnotist, also allowed himself to be placed in trance and during one of these sessions, H, the subject, was told his "guardian spirit", X, was speaking through "N". The guardian spirit informed H that this life was his last possible reincarnation, and that if he did not abide completely by his commands he would be eternally damned. H seems to have completely accepted these pronouncements, and carried out all demands to the best of his ability.

Eventually, H came to accept "N" as the voice of X regardless of whether he was in trance. Furthermore, H occasionally heard and saw his guardian spirit X when "N" was entirely absent. During their stay in prison, at "N" 's request, among other things, H cut off all relationships with others, gave "N" his watch, and became a vegetarian (thus allowing "N" to have twice the meat rations to which he was entitled). The guardian spirit informed H that his mission in this life was to achieve the unification of Scandinavia. In their hyp-




notic sessions -- both in and out of prison -- "N" caused H to "practice" in fantasy antisocial acts, among them matricide. The rationale for this was that H was not subject to the same moral code that bound other mortals, and thus must be able and willing to commit any act that would further their higher end.

After their release from prison the men continued their relationship on the same basis -- still performing "experiments" in yoga and hypnosis. "N" introduced H to a girl and instructed him to marry her, which he did. Prior to the wedding, "N" ordered H to allow him ("N") to have sexual relations with the girl. H agreed and when the girl resisted H told her that he would not marry her if she did not permit it. She acquiesced and the marriage took place shortly after. "N" made many demands upon the married couple such as the requirement that H turn over most of his salary to him. H almost invariably fulfilled "N"'s demands. The experiments continued, as did the discussions of how to unify Scandinavia. Money was needed to form an armed group in order to carry out their political aims. To get the money, a bank robbery was carefully planned. H executed the crime and turned the money over to "N". A second robbery was planned which H also perpetrated. During the robbery H shot and killed two people and was apprehended soon after.

In his account of this case, Dr. Reiter places much emphasis on the hypnotic relationship which existed between the two. He feels that by means of hypnosis "N" systematically changed H's character and induced an entirely new "secondary" personality. He concludes: "It is possible from this case to deduce the sad moral that a sufficiently skillful and cunning hypnotizer, given suitably favorable circumstances, will still have the possibility of committing serious crimes with the help of another person whom he has by means of hypnotic training formed into a useful tool for carrying out the crimes without himself running the risk of discovery and subsequent punishment." (p. 215)

In our opinion Dr. Reiter's formulation of the case is oversimplified. The concept of an artificial induction of a complete secondary personality is, from the psychiatric point of view, dubious. Dr. Reiter's report of the events in the case is based almost exclusively on H's own account which was given under hypnosis. Dr. Reiter claims that H's statements are veridical because they agree with the evidence, and because he gave H suggestions that he would be unable to lie. We agree with the former criterion but take issue with the latter. Hypnotic suggestions are not inviolable as several studies have shown.

Another example of Dr. Reiter's oversimplified approach is his faith in the phenomena of the locking suggestion, i.e., suggestions to prevent subsequent hypnosis. In this case, "N" repeatedly suggested to H that he would be unable to enter trance with anyone but "N". Aside from other evidence -- including our own work -- which indicates that locking suggestions are assailable, the very fact that Dr. Reiter succeeded in hypnotizing H demonstrates that "N" 's locking suggestions were not effective. Another criticism of Dr. Reiter's account is that the role of "N" in the entire case is discussed solely from the point of view of H. "N" is presented as an unscrupulous but clever criminal who masterfully manipulated H's personality for his own personal gain. And yet Dr. Reiter himself reports that "N" was of low average intelligence, whereas H was of high intelligence. Furthermore, although H's personal history and psychodynamics are extensively reported, the personality of "N" is barely considered. In our opinion the events in this case can be best understood in the light of the re-



relationship between the two men. A one-sided account such as Dr. Reiter's is hardly an adequate presentation of the case. In view of Dr. Reiter's one-sided method of investigation, and his apparently naive conception of hypnosis we Cannot concur with his conclusion that `'It is true that there were 'various influences used, among then hypnosis': but without hypnosis all the other influences would have been in vain." (p. 210)

Two important issues raised by the monograph are: 1) whether antisocial behavior can be hypnotically induced, and 2) if it can, with whom does the responsibility for these acts lie. Dr. Reiter marshals considerable evidence to support the argument that the hypnotic subject may be the hapless tool of an unscrupulous hypnotist who is then solely responsible for whatever crimes are committed. We will briefly outline here our own views which will be more extensively discussed elsewhere.

The data generally used to support the position which Dr. Reiter takes falls into two categories: actual criminal cases, and laboratory experiments. With regard to the latter it appears to have been demonstrated in the laboratory that hypnotic subjects will perform antisocial and self-injurious acts at the suggestion of a hypnotist. However, this behavior must be considered in the context of the total situation. Volunteer subjects are often motivated to tolerate dangerous and stressful situations for the sake of advancing scientific knowledge, as for example, in some medical research. Moreover, the laboratory hypnotist is generally known by the subject to be a reputable investigator who will undoubtedly insure the safety of all involved despite the appearance of the situation. In our opinion, no situation which is perceived by the subject to be a scientific experiment can validly test the question of the possibility of hypnotically inducing antisocial behavior. A more adequate test would involve a situation which is more "real" to the subject, and where the hypnotist seems to have some clear-cut personal profit motive for suggesting the antisocial behavior.

In the past 25 years there have been only three documented cases reported of actual criminal behavior involving hypnotic suggestion. If Dr. Reiter's thesis is correct that a "cunning hypnotizer" can form another individual into a "useful tool" for perpetrating crimes, then it is surprising that there are so few cases of this nature reported; especially since the lay public has been extensively exposed to views such as Dr. Reiter's. All three of the reported cases are marked by an intense interpersonal relationship between subject and hypnotist which preceded the hypnotic work. As in any intense relationship the motivation of the individuals involved are extremely complex, and the behavior of each with regard to the other must be understood in the context of the total relationship. An explanation which purports to account for such behavior by singling out one aspect of the relationship -- i.e. hypnosis -- must be viewed with skepticism.

With regard to criminal behavior, it is not extraordinary for one individual to perform antisocial behavior which benefits another. The only unusual feature of the Reiter case is that hypnosis played some role. We would not ascribe the subject's motivation to hypnotic influence, as Dr. Reiter seems to do, but would relate it to the kind of relationship which existed between H and "N". In this case the relationship seems to have been characterized by a shared psychotic system, and there are some indications of latent homosexuality. The role that hypnosis plays is to disguise for the subject his own motivation and to create a situation which allows the subject to, at some level, disclaim responsibility for



his actions. We will refrain from committing ourselves on the question of legal or moral responsibility which, in any case, is not for a psychiatrist to settle. In our view, antisocial behavior such as H's could have been performed without the introduction of hypnosis.

Despite our methodological and theoretical criticisms, Dr. Reiter's book is probably the best single study available of a criminal case involving hypnosis. The case is a fascinating one, and at times borders on the incredible. The book is well worth reading; but the reader should bear in mind that events depicted may have alternative explanations.

Martin T. Orne, M.D., Ph.D.

Harvard University

The preceding paper is a reproduction of the following book review (Orne, M.T. A book review of Reiter, P.J. M.D., Antisocial or criminal acts and hypnosis: A case study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 1960, 8, 131-134. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.