Orne, M. T. Hypnosis. In The Academic American Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. Princeton, N. J.: Arete Publishing Co., 1980. Pp.350-351.


Hypnosis refers to a state or condition in which the subject becomes highly responsive to suggestions. The hypnotized individual seems to follow instructions in an uncritical, automatic fashion and attends closely only to those aspects of the environment made relevant by the hypnotist. If the subject is profoundly responsive, he or she hears, sees, feels, smells, and tastes in accordance with the suggestions given, even though these may be in direct contradiction to the actual stimuli that impinge upon the subject. Furthermore, memory and awareness of self can be altered by suggestions. All of these effects may be extended posthypnotically into the individual's subsequent waking activity. It is as if suggestions given during hypnosis come to define the individual's perception of the real world. In this sense the phenomenon has been described as a "believed-in fantasy."

What typically occurs when a responsive individual is hypnotized can be described as follows. After consenting, the subject is asked to relax and focus his or her attention, usually on some object. It is suggested, in a quiet but compelling tone, that relaxation will increase and that the eyes will become tired. Soon the eyes show exaggerated signs of fatigue, and it is suggested that they will close. The subject's eyes do shut, and he or she begins to show signs of profound relaxation, with quiet, regular breathing, superficially resembling sleep. It may now be suggested that the subject's eyes are so heavy that he or she does not care to open them and that he or she could not do so even if that were attempted. When invited to try, the subject finds, often to his or her surprise, that the eyes will not open. Through analogous suggestions, the subject's experience may be altered in virtually every sensory modality. His memory for ongoing events may be interrupted, but the apparent reliving of events that transpired in the individual's past may be facilitated; that is, age regression can be induced by suggesting that the subject is growing younger and younger. Gradually, the subject will begin to respond in the manner of a child and may describe events, people, rooms, and feelings as if he or she were currently reliving an episode in his or her past life. His descriptions and total behavior may take on characteristics seemingly appropriate to the age to which he has regressed.

Response to posthypnotic suggestion may be demonstrated by telling the hypnotized subject to forget what has occurred and, further, that after the individual is awake, he or she will carry out a specific action at a particular time or in response to a prearranged signal. When awakened and asked what has happened, the subject will be unable to describe the events that have just transpired. The bulk of these memories can, however, easily be recovered by suggesting that the subject will remember all that has occurred.

While the responsive subject will carry out the posthypnotic response suggested during hypnosis at a prearranged signal without being aware of the reasons for such actions, he or she will do so only as long as they are not truly unacceptable. Stage hypnotists capitalize on the fact that posthypnotic suggestions may include apparently embarrassing actions. However, the actions of volunteers for stage hypnosis are less bizarre or embarrassing than those elicited without hypnosis from volunteers for television game-show programs.

The hypnotic state is a response of normal individuals, but there are wide individual differences in the ability to respond. The capacity to be hypnotized resides in the individual rather than in the hypnotist's technique and is one of the many basic psychological characteristics of normal individuals, This capacity does not seem directly related to a particular personality type, although it is closely related to the ease with which an individual can become totally absorbed in fantasy while, for the moment, ignoring the real world. However, despite the relative ease with which hypnosis may be induced in an individual who has the skill of responding, it is not possible to hypnotize a person against his or her wishes.

Although the hypnotized individual may at times appear superficially asleep and his or her responses may initially appear slow and trancelike, resembling those of the spontaneous sleepwalker, the individual is physiologically awake at all times. In contrast to the true sleepwalkers, the subject's brain waves are those of a waking individual. Similarly, although the hypnotized subject may be instructed to ignore surrounding events and will apparently be unaware of their existence, such material does register and can be shown to exert an effect on the subject.

Even deeply hypnotized, an individual will not only refuse to act against strongly held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs, but can, if he or she chooses to do so, resist responding to any specific suggestion. For example, despite suggestions to tell the truth, it is possible for him to purposively lie with little more effort than in his normal waking state. Further, although age regression is useful in psychotherapeutic treatment, the memories called forth may validly reflect the individual's feelings about past events; the events that are relived, however, may or may not be historically accurate. Although compelling, both to the subject and to the observer, these memories often are in fact a combination of many events, not only from the same epoch but also confounded by later experiences -- a matter of concern if historical accuracy is important, as in legal matters.

Hypnosis is not an independent science or art; rather, it is a technique useful in the context of medical, psychological, or dental treatment. It is used to control acute and chronic pain as in childbirth, skin transplants, dental procedures, and the treatment of burns. There are many other medical applications including the treatment of some skin disorders, allergies, and intractable insomnia.

In psychiatric or psychological therapy, hypnosis may be used to facilitate recall of traumatic events that have been pushed out of mind and to help the patient deal with neurotic symptoms. Hypnosis, particularly as it is used in treatment, is a cooperative enterprise that depends upon the patient's ability to respond, and it is important for him or her to understand this fact. From this perspective it has been used with varying degrees of success in such disorders of self-control as obesity and addictions. It is particularly useful in the treatment of phobias and functional disorders of memory. Hypnosis and relaxation exercises have been integrated into many behavioral as well as psychodynamic treatment approaches. The use of hypnosis to suggest away symptoms has a more limited application than is generally recognized.

The technique of inducing hypnosis is easily learned, but even extensive experience in induction does not provide the necessary knowledge to use hypnosis appropriately in treatment. Health professionals employ hypnosis in their area of competence and are equipped to use this method as well as a variety of other treatments so that they can choose the one most appropriate for a particular patient. Generally, codes of ethics prevent health professionals from advertising themselves as hypnotists. Therefore, those who do advertise are unlikely to have the necessary training to appropriately treat medical or psychological problems. Broad diagnostic and therapeutic skills are indispensable in avoiding inappropriate and potentially dangerous uses of hypnosis in treatment.

Hypnosis is therefore a state of mind the achievement of which depends more on the capacity of the individual to respond than on the induction process. It can lead to profound alterations in the individual's experience and may for a time profoundly affect memory as well as all sensory modalities. These effects are best understood as the consequence of the hypnotized individual's ability to focus his or her attention on suggested ideas and ignore other aspects of his or her external and internal environment.

Bibliography: Barber, Theodore, Hypnosis: A Scientific Approach (1969); Crasilneck, Harold B., and Hall, James, Clinical Hypnosis (1975); Ellenberger, Henri E., The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970); Frankel, Fred, Hypnosis: Trance as a Coping Mechanism (1976); Fromm, Erika, and Shor, Ronald, eds., Hypnosis: Research Developments and Perspectives, rev. ed, (1976); Gill, Merton M., and Brenman, Margaret, Hypnosis and Related States (1959); Hilgard, Ernest R., Hypnotic Susceptibility (1965) and Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain (1975); Kroger, William S., Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in Medicine, Dentistry, and Psychology, 2d ed. (1477); Moss, Claude S., The Hypnotic




Investigation of Dreams (1967); Tinterow, Maurice M, Foundations of Hypnosis, from Mesmer to Freud (1970). Wolberg, Lewis R, Hypnoanalysis, 2d ed. (1964) and Medical Hypnosis, vols 1 and 2 (1948)


The preceding paper is a reproduction of the following entry (Orne, M. T. Hypnosis. In The Academic American Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. Princeton, N. J.: Arete Publishing Co., 1980. Pp.350-351.). Copyright © 2003 by Scholastic, Inc. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.