hypnosis Hypnotism

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Hypnotism Theory

Despite the amount of research on hypnotism, and perhaps because of the low quality of much of it, there is still no agreement as to what process causes the hypnotic state. There are many, many different theories to explain hypnosis. Some widely accepted models are:

Cognitive Neuroscience Theory
Alpha/Theta-state Theory
Role-playing Theory
Dissociation Theory
Cerebral Inhibition Theory
Hyper–Suggestibility Theory
Informational Theory
Systems Theory

test tipSome of these models are compatible with each other, but in most there are fundamental contradictions. As a hypnotist it is useful to have an understanding of all of these theories, even those that are outdated or flawed. Hypnotic subjects who hold beliefs similar to any of these ideas have preconceived notions which will strongly influence their response to hypnotic induction.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Theory

Cognitive Neuroscience based theories of hypnosis explain hypnotic phenomenon patterns of brain activity. One researcher, John Gruzelier, used EEG data to show that hypnosis is characterized by a shift in brain activity from anterior (front) to posterior (back).  Other research shows increased activity on the right side of the brain, and decreased activity on the left, and more specifically changes in activity in certain areas of brain associated things like verbal skills. Because of the more generally peer reviewed acceptance of this area of research among scientists we will discuss Cognitive Neuroscience in more detail later.

Alpha/Theta-state Theory

test tipUsing Electroencephalography (EEG) the frequencies of electrical activity in the brain can be determined. Analysis of this data identifies four major brain-wave state patterns.

Beta state at 14–32 Hz, associated with alert or working mental activity
Alpha state at 7–14 Hz, associated with relaxing or reflecting
Theta state at 4–7 Hz, associated with being drowsy
Delta state at 3–5 Hz, associated with sleeping [1]

One physiological theory of hypnosis claims that the alpha state is active when to hypnotically suggesting to stopping smoking, managing weight, reducing phobias, improving athletic performance, etc. The alpha state is commonly associated with simple relaxation, and daydreaming. [1]

A different physiological theory claims the theta state is the one required for behavioral change. Hypnotic anesthesia (the use of hypnosis to remove the sensation of pain), and hypnoanalgesia (the use of hypnosis to decrease sensitivity to pain), have been shown to occur more easily in the theta and delta brain wave states. Anesthetics, sedatives and hypnotics disrupt neuronal synchrony, thought to underlie theta waves, in both humans and animals, as well as in simple neuronal circuits (see: www.stanford.edu/group/maciverlab/Theta.html). It should be noted that hypnoanalgesia is a commonly used as a test for somnambulism. Arm and body catalepsy are one of a few tests done to determine readiness for these surgical applications.

Critics of this theory point out that both arm and body catalepsy can be readily induced in people who are not hypnotized. In fact arm catalepsy is a standard stage-hypnotist's test of susceptibility and not actually considered hypnosis itself. Further more, non-hypnotized subjects can be found in any of these brain wave states without displaying any of behavior or the enhanced suggestibility that is associated with being hypnotized.

Role-playing Theory

test tipThe idea of dissociation of consciousness was originally developed by Pierre Janet. He theorized that hypnosis is a dissociation of consciousness. Areas of behavioral control are separate from ordinary awareness. Hypnosis removes some of the control of the conscious mind leading to more autonomic or reflexive behavior. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as "dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place."[5]

Cerebral Inhibition Theory

test tipRussian physiologist and behavioral researcher Ivan Pavlov believed that hypnosis sort of a "partial sleep". Finding that dogs held in lab harnesses while presented with monotonously repeating stimuli tended to sleep or show rigidity in their limbs, Pavlov constructed a theory of conditioned responses involving increased excitation and inhibition in areas of the brain. The monotony of low intensity stimuli presented to a subject whose motor function was inhibited would produce a localized area of neural inhibition in the brain. This contrasts with sleep which Pavlov claimed was a generalized neural inhibition in the brain. Pavlov also theorized that processes in the lower brain stem are fundamental to the in induction of hypnosis. [6] More recent research focusing on blood pressure, response to pain stimuli, and brain activity as measured by EEG or fMRI, highlights the differences between hypnosis and sleep. This theory has been criticized as being vague and untestable.

Hyper–Suggestibility Theory

Hyper–Suggestibility Theory claims that as the subject continues to increase the focus of their attention to the suggestions of the hypnotist, their own suggestibility is magnified to a hyper level, leading their conscious resistance to collapse. This creates a sort of mental filter where only the object of the focus is consciously considered important and all other stimuli is discarded. [2]

Informational Theory

test tipApproaching the function of the brain as a computer, Informational Theory uses common telecommunications networking concepts to explain neural activity. In telecommunications of information technology systems there is feedback adjustment that work to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, which result in an optimized "steady state". Increased sensitivity to messages or signals balances with the resources required to maintain the sensitivity, and the risk of losing important information mislabeled as noise. An example would be a spam filter on an email account. It must let in valid, important messages and yet also filter junk and noise that distracts attention. Hypnosis is claimed to be a way filter out even more information then would be in the optimized steady state. Thus things like pain, the urge to smoke a cigarette, or just general critical rejection of the hypnotist’s suggestions are filtered out through intense mental focus. [2]

Systems Theory

test tipAn extension of the theories of James Braid, [7] Systems Theory claims hypnosis is caused by the interaction of subsystems of the human nervous system. The increase and decrease of activity in particular subsystems changes their interaction resulting in feedback loops, and manifests as familiar hypnotic phenomena. [8][9]

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1 a b "States of Consciousness: States of Sleep" Psychology 101 Julie Earles, Leslie McDonald, Elizabeth Dietrich, and Gilles Einstein.
2 a b c Kroger, William S. (1977) Clinical and experimental hypnosis in medicine, dentistry, and psychology Lippincott, Philadelphia, ISBN 0-397-50377-6
3 Baker, Robert A. (1990) They Call It Hypnosis Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, ISBN 0879755768
4 Spanos, Nicholas P. and John F. Chaves (1989). Hypnosis: the Cognitive-behavioral Perspective. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books.
5 Weitzenhoffer, A.M.: Hypnotism - An Objective Study in Suggestibility. New York, Wiley, 1953.
6 Pavlov, I. P.: Experimental Psychology. New York, Philosophical Library, 1957.
7 Braid J (1843). Neurypnology or The rationale of nervous sleep considered in relation with animal magnetism.. Buffalo, N.Y.: John Churchill.
8 Morgan J.D. (1993). The Principles of Hypnotherapy. Eildon Press.
9 The Principles of Hypnotherapy. (online)

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