COLUMBUS, Ohio -- People who are willing and motivated to be hypnotized may be as successful in hypnotherapy as those defined as "hypnotizable" or able to enter "altered states," new research suggests.
In experiments at Ohio State University, scientists found that people with low susceptibility to hypnosis -- but told to act highly susceptible to it -- were six times more likely to successfully carry out a post-hypnotic suggestion than those who were actually highly susceptible to hypnosis and dissociative experiences.
These results suggest that successfully performing post-hypnotic suggestions may have less to do with ease of being hypnotized and more to do with motivation -- that is, a person's willingness to buy into the idea of hypnosis and do what it takes to try to make it work.
"Traditionally, hypnotic behavior has been described as a type of altered state where fundamental cognitive changes take
place, as something separate from everyday social behavior," said Joseph P. Green, assistant professor of psychology at the Ohio State University at Lima and lead author of the study.
"However, our results suggest that hypnotic behavior can be explained using the same principles we use to explain social behavior. Our research suggests that all the things that affect social behavior -- expectations, beliefs, instructions, cues -- will affect hypnotic behavior."
Green conducted this research with Steven Jay Lynn, professor of psychology at Ohio University. The pair presented their work Aug. 15 in New York at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
Green and Lynn's study involved 112 university undergraduates previously tested for their susceptibility to hypnosis (high or low) and their tendency to have dissociative experiences (greater or lesser). Dissociative experiences occur when one engages in behaviors outside of conscious awareness. These students were contacted by the researchers and asked to participate in a follow-up hypnosis experiment. Before the hypnotist hypnotized the students, the researchers took low susceptible subjects aside and told them to act like "excellent, highly hypnotizable subjects."
The hypnotist then hypnotized the whole student group. Before ending the session, the hypnotist told the students that after they woke up, they would automatically write down certain target numbers while simultaneously performing another task -- and that they would do this "automatic writing" without any conscious attention. After the students awoke from hypnosis, the researchers tested their ability to perform this automatic writing task. Each student wrote down target numbers with one hand while simultaneously performing another writing task with their other hand.
The researchers found that those students less susceptible to hypnosis -- but acting as if they were highly susceptible to it -- were six times more likely to complete the automatic writing task correctly than were the more hypnotizable students.
Further, they found that students' previous dissociative experiences and their success on other difficult hypnotic suggestions had no bearing on their ability to pass the automatic writing task.
"These results, along with findings from other investigations, seriously question the role of dissociation in hypnotic phenomenon," he said.
These findings should give people confidence that, if they are highly motivated and willing to try hypnosis, hypnotherapy may work for them, Green said. However, both Green and Lynn strongly recommend that individuals interested in trying hypnotherapy seek a qualified professional.
"It is a skill that people can practice and learn," Green said. "In fact, our results suggest that the success of hypnotherapy is likely very similar to success in 'regular' psychological treatments. If a person is motivated and willing to try out different behaviors and experiences, it's likely to work."
Back to Archive
Go to Current Month News Research Stories
Go to Current Month Newsfeature Stories
Go to Current Month News Cancer Report Stories
Contact: Joseph P. Green, (419) 221-1641, ext. 278
Written by Kelly McConaghy Kershner, (614) 292-8308