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The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement

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Abstract

In this introductory article to a special issue on the sociocognitive perspective of hypnosis, the authors contrast two influential hypnosis theories-the sociocognitive and dissociation perspectives-and argue that recent developments in sociocognitive theory (i.e., response set theory) and in the broader field of cognitive psychology pertaining to nonconscious information processing and goal-directed action make possible a rapprochement between theoretical accounts that have vied for attention and empirical support.
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement1
Steven Jay Lynn and Joseph P. Green
Binghamton University (SUNY) Ohio State University at Lima
Corresponding Author:
Steven Jay Lynn, Ph.D., ABPP
Psychology Department
Binghamton University (SUNY)
Binghamton, NY 13905
Email: stevenlynn100@gmail.com
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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Abstract
This article introduces the special issue on the sociocognitive perspective of hypnosis.
We contrast two influential hypnosis theories--the sociocognitive and dissociation
perspectives--and argue that recent developments in sociocognitive theory (i.e.,
response set theory; Kirsch & Lynn, 1998) and in the broader field of cognitive
psychology pertaining to nonconscious information processing and goal-directed action
make possible a rapprochement between theoretical accounts that have vied for
attention and empirical support.
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From the dawning days of the history of hypnosis, different theoretical accounts
have vied for attention and empirical support (Pintar & Lynn, 2008). Today, two
competing perspectives--sociocognitive and dissociation theories--have provided the
scaffolding for much of the research and clinical work in the field of hypnosis (Kirsch &
Lynn, 1995). Researchers and theorists who embrace these conflicting perspectives
have often sought to gain an advantage over proponents of the opposing school of
thought by highlighting essential differences rather than commonalities and areas of
convergence across theories. In this paper, we introduce the special issue on the
sociocognitive perspective (SCP) of hypnosis and suggest that recent theoretical efforts
by adherents of sociocognitive theories, in tandem with developments in cognitive
psychology, make possible a rapprochement between theoretical camps that centers on
nonconscious aspects of human functioning.
The SCP holds that hypnotic behaviors, like everyday actions, are goal-directed
—hypnotized participants act in terms of their aims and according to their point of view,
and ultimately exhibit exquisite control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,
despite the fact that their experiences during hypnosis often have an automatic or
involuntary quality (Lynn, Kirsch, & Hallquist, 2008; Lynn, Rhue, & Weekes, 1990).
The SCP perspective has deep roots in: (a) Sarbin’s (1950) attacks on hypnosis as an
altered state of consciousness, (b) T. X. Barber’s (Barber, 1969; Barber & Calverley,
1964) criticism of the state concept because of its logical circularity (i.e., hypnotic
responsiveness can both indicate the existence of a hypnotic state and be explained by
it), and (c) White’s (1941) contention that hypnotic behavior is goal-directed social
action intimately associated with participants’ ideas of what the hypnotist wishes them
to do. However, unlike other SCP theorists, White believed that hypnotic behavior
occurs in the context of an altered state of consciousness.
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Sarbin and his colleague W.C. Coe (Coe & Sarbin, 1991; Sarbin, 1999; Sarbin &
Coe, 1972) conceptualized hypnosis as believed-in-imaginings, and argued that both
the hypnotist and participant enact reciprocal roles guided by situational demand
characteristics and knowledge of what is required in the hypnotic situation.
Unfortunately, some workers in the field (D. Spiegel, 1998) have misunderstood Sarbin
and other SCP theorists to say that hypnosis is nothing more than role-playing. In
actuality, Sarbin used role enactment to highlight the constructive, motivated, and
active nature of responding to hypnotic suggestions (see Lynn & Kirsch, 2006), and did
not claim that most hypnotic participants were only complying, much less faking their
responses.
T. X. Barber and his associates (Barber, 1969) provided fascinating
demonstrations of the role of attitudes, motivations, and expectations in hypnotic
responding, and determined that highly motivated nonhypnotized and hypnotized
individuals often respond comparably to a wide array of suggestions (Barber, 1969).
Spanos and his colleagues (Spanos, 1986, 1991; Spanos & Chaves 1989) and
Wagstaff (1991, 2004), in England, emphasized the importance of social and cognitive
processes--especially the strategic, goal-directed nature of hypnosis--and contended
that expectancies, attributions, and interpretations of hypnotic communications and
personal actions shape hypnotic responsiveness. Spanos (Gorassini & Spanos, 1986)
also challenged the received wisdom that hypnotic suggestibility is very stable, and
showed that hypnotic responsiveness could be enhanced by a social-learning,
cognitive-skills-based hypnotic suggestibility modification program designed to
increase positive attitudes about hypnosis, coach individuals in how to interpret
suggestions, and motivate and increase involvement and imagination in line with
suggestions provided (Gorassini & Spanos, 1999).
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Lynn and his colleagues have focused more than other SCP theorists on affect,
relational, and rapport factors, and unconscious motives and fantasies that drive
hypnotic responding. Lynn has also identified features of the hypnotic context that
discourage analysis of the personal and situational factors that affect hypnotic behavior
and the experience of nonvolition (see Lynn et al., 1991).
Of all the SCP theorists, Kirsch has placed the greatest emphasis on the role of
expectancies as causal determinants of behavioral and subjective experiences during
hypnosis, and argued that expectancies can generate nonvolitional responses. Kirsch
has maintained that hypnosis functions as a nondeceptive placebo, and thereby has
the ability to produce therapeutic effects by enhancing patient expectancies.
In this issue, Wagstaff, Wheatcroft, and Jones (2011) report that the influence of
expectancies on hypnotic responses may also extend to the realm of forensic
hypnosis. More specifically, across two studies, they determined that when
instructions imply that accurate reporting of memories is a feature of hypnosis, highly
hypnotizable individuals may actually be more resistant than their less hypnotizable
counterparts to false memories arising from misleading information provided during
hypnosis.
Before we proceed to a discussion of a possible rapprochement between the
sociocognitive and dissociation perspectives, we will first address an important
mischaracterization of the SCP. In addition to the mistaken idea that SCP theorists
reduce hypnosis to mere compliance or faking, there exists a perception that SCP
theories minimize the importance of subjective experiences and alterations of
consciousness during hypnosis. In fact, SCP theories devote considerable attention to
explaining subjectively compelling experiences and alterations in consciousness,
especially one of the hallmarks of hypnosis--the perception of involuntariness that often
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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accompanies responses to hypnotic suggestions. However, rather than contend that
hypnosis produces a unitary or unique state of suggestibility, SCP theorists argue that:
(a) hypnotic experience shifts flexibly as a function of the suggestions presented, and
hypnosis can thereby evoke many and diverse states of consciousness (Wagstaff,
1998); and (b) the effects of waking suggestions are often impressive, subjectively
convincing, and comparable to the effects of hypnosis (see Kirsch, 1977; Braffman &
Kirsch, 1999).
Indeed, as Barber (1969) noted more than four decades ago, waking
suggestions can also produce profound changes in experience and behavior. Meyer
and Lynn’s (2011) research, reported in this issue, supports the idea that responses to
imaginative suggestions in an “awake” and “hypnotic” context are largely comparable,
and Kirsch and his colleagues’ research (p. xxx ), also reported in this issue, shows
that the hypnotic context confers only a slight advantage in responding to visual
hallucinations (Rotriquenz, Carvalho, Vannucci, Roberts, & Kirsch, 2008). The clinical
ramifications of these findings should not go unheeded: Some patients do not wish to
be hypnotized, yet therapists can leverage hypnotic-like imaginative suggestions,
presented in a nonhypnotic context, to advantage.
Sociocognitive theorists (Barber, 1969; Lynn & Kirsch, 2006) generally minimize
the role of hypnotic responsiveness in mediating or moderating therapy outcome,
because most suggestions delivered in the context of psychotherapy are relatively
easy to pass (e.g., relaxation, imagery rehearsal). In keeping with this contention,
Montgomery, Schnur, and David (2011) report in this issue that hypnotic suggestibility,
albeit a statistically significant effect, accounted for only 6% of the variability in
treatment outcome in clinical care settings. These findings imply that a broad range of
patients can benefit from hypnotic procedures.
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In the remainder of this article, we will suggest that a move toward a
rapprochement between sociocognitive and neodissociation perspectives can be
achieved with recognition of the nonconscious aspects of goal-directed behaviors in
hypnosis and the pervasive influence of unconscious processes in thought and action
in everyday life. Interestingly, Spanos and Chaves (1991) hinted at the possibility of
rapprochement along these lines more than 20 years ago. We quote:
Perhaps the most valuable contribution of neodissociation theorists to the study
of hypnotic behavior stems from their insistence that unconscious processing…
is likely to be important in explaining at least some aspects of hypnotic
responding. However, notions of unconscious processing and misattribution are
not inconsistent with the concept of goal-directed action. White (1941), for
example, despite rejecting the concept of dissociation, argued that goal-directed
activities could occur outside of awareness…Perhaps the continued development
of these notions within theoretical frameworks that also emphasize the goal-
directed nature of hypnotic responding will allow for some rapprochement
between neodissociation and sociocognitive theorists (p. 71).
Since Spanos and Chaves (1991) penned this statement, SCP theorists have
taken their suggestion to heart and elucidated ways in which goal-directed activities
can occur outside of conscious awareness and affect hypnotic performance (Kirsch &
Lynn, 1997, 1999). The more recent emphasis in the SCP on unconscious
determinants of hypnotic responsiveness responds to criticisms of the perspective (see
Lynn & Kirsch, 2006) that it: (a) valorizes agency while not acknowledging unconscious
influences (Nash, 1997), and (b) that responses to suggestions (e.g., analgesia) can
occur in the absence of reports of apparent goal-directed strategies (see Bowers &
Davidson, 1991).
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To better understand the possibilities of rapprochement, it is necessary to briefly
summarize some of the tenets of neodissociation theories. According to Hilgard’s
(1977, 1986, 1994) neodissociation theory, dissociation is a division of consciousness
in which attention, effort, and planning are carried out without awareness. During
hypnosis, suggestions result in a separation between personality functions that are
normally well integrated. Furthermore, parallel streams of consciousness co-occur and
are divided by an amnesic barrier, and subsystems of consciousness exist in a
hierarchical arrangement such that the executive planning and monitoring functions of
the personality are reduced, and suggested perceptions, memories, and changes in
motor control may be perceived as external reality (Hilgard, 1991).
Following Hilgard, a family of dissociation theories have been put forward that
dispense with positing an amnesic barrier to segregate parallel streams of
consciousness. For example, in the dissociated control version of dissociation theory,
lower subsystems of control are directly activated by suggestions as executive control
is minimized or bypassed during hypnosis. Accordingly, suggestions more or less
directly bring about responses with little or no sense of effort or conscious control
(Bowers & Davidson, 1991; Woody & Bowers, 1994).
Woody and Sadler (2008) rightly contend that dissociation theories are distinct
from sociocognitive theories in that: (a) dissociation theories hypothesize the existence
of a special, innate mechanism for discriminating the internal versus external origin of
events, and for highly hypnotizable people, hypnosis temporarily brings about a
disruption of this mechanism; and (b) sociocognitive theories contend that hypnotic
subjects infer nonvolition indirectly from situational cues indicating that their behavior is
supposed to be nonvolitional (p. 93-94). We also note that most sociocognitive
theories contend that hypnotic performance is the outcome of goal-directed strategies.
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Yet recent innovations in SC theory and new findings on the unconscious nature
of goal-directed action marginalize the divide between sociocognitive and dissociation
theories to an even greater extent than was possible in the past. In fact, if dissociation
theory is defined in the broadest possible terms, as action that occurs without
awareness, then Kirsch and Lynn’s response set theory can be thought of as a radical
reformulation of dissociation theory. The theory depends not on a metaphor of hidden
aspects of the personality operating outside of consciousness (i.e., Hilgard’s metaphor of
the “hidden observer”), nor on an amnesic barrier that separates normally well-integrated
functions of the personality (Kirsch & Lynn, 1998a), nor on a special innate mechanism
that gets disrupted during hypnosis. Rather, the theory makes the radical claim that all
actions, hypnotic or otherwise, are at the moment of activation triggered automatically.
According to Kirsch and Lynn (1999), “it is not the experienced automaticity of ideomotor
responses that is an illusion, but rather the experience of volition that is claimed to
characterize everyday behavior (Kirsch & Lynn, 1997, 1998; also see Wegner &
Wheatley, 1999).” However, the fact that much of human behavior is initiated outside of
awareness and unfolds with little or no conscious deliberation is not incompatible with
the idea that we can still become aware of what we are doing and be able to consciously
regulate and exert considerable control over our actions (Wagstaff, personal
communication, August 19, 2010). Indeed, even highly suggestible individuals can resist
and contravene the effects of hypnotic suggestions when motivated to do so (see Lynn
et al, 1990).
As summarized by Lynn and Kirsch (2006, p. 25), response sets, which include
intentions and expectations, prepare actions for automatic activation, increasing
readiness to respond in particular ways, to particular stimuli, under particular conditions.
In the case of hypnosis, a highly suggestible participant would expect to respond like an
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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excellent subject (i.e., respond in a particular way) following a hypnotic induction (i.e.,
particular stimuli), in a situation defined as hypnosis (i.e., particular circumstances).
Response expectancies are anticipations of automatic and subjective behavioral
responses to situational cues, and they bring about automatic responses in the form of
self-fulfilling prophecies (Kirsch, 1985).
The idea that response sets and intentions, in particular, are influential
determinants of hypnotic responsiveness is not limited to sociocognitive theorists.
Sheehan (1991), for example, called attention to the hypnotized person’s motivated
cognitive commitment or preparedness to respond (see also McConkey, 1991), whereas
Tellegen (1981) suggested that highly suggestible participants adopt an experiential set
based on a readiness to undergo experiential events that are suggested, a set in which
experiences have a “quality of effortlessness, as if they happened by themselves, and in
that sense, of involuntariness” (Tellegen, 1981, p. 222).
The renowned clinical hypnotist Milton Erickson and his colleagues (Erickson,
Rossi, & Rossi, 1976) tuned into the transformative potential of response sets more than
three decades ago. Consider the following comments (Erickson, Rossi, & Rossi, 1976):
“…most people do not know that most mental processes are autonomous…Hypnotic
suggestions come into play when the therapist’s directives have a significant effect on
facilitating the expression of that flow in one direction or another.” The authors further
observed, “Much initial effort in every trance induction is to evoke a set or framework of
associations that will facilitate the work that is to be accomplished” (p. 58). Additionally,
the authors claimed that the most effective aspect of any suggestion is that which stirs
the listener’s own associations and mental processes into automatic action, and
appreciated the fact that many everyday thoughts and actions are experienced as
involuntary (Hallquist & Lynn, 2006). Conversely, Spanos (1986) claimed that an
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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oppositional response set, and one to “just wait” passively for a response to occur are
generally antithetical to successful responding.
According to response set theory, individuals perceive their responses to
hypnosis as involuntary not only because their actions are triggered automatically, often
with little conscious thought, but also because of the dominant cultural view that hypnotic
responses are not self-initiated (see Green, Page, Rasekhy, Johnson, & Bernhardt,
2006). That is, hypnotic subjects expect that when they experience hypnosis, they will
experience profound shifts in consciousness, behaviors, feelings, and their sense of
volitional control. When they are asked about their experiences after hypnosis, they
understandably often frame what occurred during the hypnotic proceedings in these
latter terms as well (Lynn et al., 1990).
Recent research in cognitive psychology affirms what Spanos and Chaves
(1991) suggested long ago—goal-directed activities can and do occur outside conscious
awareness. Lynn and his associates (Lynn et al., 1991) framed the nonconscious nature
of goal-directed, strategic activity in this way (p. 172):
We maintain that the entire chain of events of imagining or experiencing
suggestions, responding, and viewing the response as an involuntary
occurrence is goal directed, even though subjects may not experience the
links of the chain in a deliberate, effortful, or even conscious manner. Just as
some people who solve a mathematical puzzle may be unaware of all the
cognitive operations involved in solving the puzzle, some hypnotized subjects
may be unaware of the strategies involved in responding to suggestions…To the
extent that interests and intentions lack articulation, self-consciousness, and
the perception of inner-directedness, the sense of deliberate control of action is
compromised (Fingarette, 1969; Sarbin, 1984).
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This statement suggests that an answer to Bowers and Davidson’s (1991) critique of the
sociocognitive perspective, alluded to earlier, is that people who experience hypnosis
may fail to report that they used strategies for a simple reason: they adopt strategic ways
of responding to a suggestion on an unconscious basis.
In a recent article in the journal, Science, Custers and Aarts (2010) marshal a
substantial body of evidence to support their claim that actions are routinely initiated and
pursued even though people are unconscious of the goals to be attained. In terms of
response set theory, the goals (and strategies) that people adopt during hypnosis are
shaped and primed by suggestions (e.g., for the hand to lift, to visualize a hallucinated
person) and response sets that may operate outside of people’s awareness yet still
motivate and guide their behavior.
Custers and Aarts (2010) note that the “mere activation of the idea of a
behavioral act or outcome moves and programs the human body without a conscious
decision to act” (p. 49). According to response set theory (Kirsch & Lynn, 1997; Lynn,
1997), suggested actions during hypnosis are primed not only by suggested ideas, but
also by the experience of suggestion-related sensations: Sensations of lightness in a
person’s arm who experiences a hand levitation suggestion trigger a seemingly
automatic response to lift the arm. A correlate of this idea is that the ability to translate
suggested thoughts and images into sensations may contribute to hypnotizability,
although this hypothesis has yet to be tested rigorously in a systematic manner.
Custers and Aarts (2010) contend (entirely consistent with response set theory)
that participants may become conscious of their motivation only after the behavior is
performed and when they are explicitly asked to reflect on it. In other words, the
reported conscious experience of pursuing goals may be an inference rather than the
cause of goal pursuit. Because most people are unaware of the automatic nature of
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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their responses, as Erickson and his colleagues (Erickson et al., 1976) pointed out, they
tend to attribute the automatic or involuntary nature of their responses during hypnosis to
an altered state of consciousness, trance, or the power of the hypnotist.
People who experience hypnosis may be somewhat more responsive than
people who receive imaginative suggestions with no hypnotic induction. We suggest
that this occurs not because the former individuals’ responses are any more
“involuntary” or automatic during hypnosis than during everyday life, but because the
induction and culturally prevalent ideas surrounding hypnosis--as increasing
responsiveness to suggestions--may better motivate and prepare response sets and
action schema and facilitate the experience of suggestions as involuntary occurrences.
Dissociation theory does not detail the elements of an hypnotic induction,
situational factors, or personal attributes that produce responses that are dissociated
from conscious awareness or control. One of the main differences between response
set theory and dissociation theories is that response set theory borrows from
sociocognitive theory more broadly to describe how actions are prepared for automatic
activation, or in other words, “dissociation.” More specifically, positive response sets
and action schema are formed and automatic activation of action is prepared by way of
“sociocognitive variables,” including: (a) positive attitudes, expectancies, rapport with the
hypnotist, and accurate beliefs about hypnosis; (b) high motivation to respond; (c) clear
cues that signal how to respond that shape goal directed action; and (d) implicit or
explicit instructions to become in absorbed or imagine suggestions provided by the
hypnotist. Indeed, when these variables are operative in a given individual,
sociocognitive theory predicts that the participant would test as highly suggestible and
experience suggestions as more involuntary than when these variables are not in play,
and indeed this is the case (Gorassini & Spanos, 1986; Lynn et al., 1990; Wagstaff,
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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1991).
Might individual differences moderate the ability to activate response sets? We
suspect so. Researchers and theorists have argued that relatively stable “cognitive
traits” that encompass information processing and attention abilities are crucial to the
experience of hypnosis (see Horton & Crawford, 2004; Karlin, 1979). Hypnotic
suggestibility has been shown to correlate with sustained and focused attention abilities
(e.g., Lyons & Crawford, 1997). Moreover, when no induction is administered, highly
suggestible individuals: a.) are better able to detect words among a letter array (Wallace,
Allen, & Weber,1994), b.) display increased after-image persistence (Atkinson &
Crawford, 1992), and c.) exhibit faster reaction times (Braffman & Kirsch, 2001).
Enhanced attention abilities would be expected to promote the formation of response
sets and the ability to focus on suggestion-related sensations that would promote the
automatic activation of behaviors.
In general, highly suggestible individuals exhibit greater Stroop conflict than low
suggestible individuals, regardless of whether or not they are hypnotized (Blum & Graef,
1971; Dixon, Brunet, & Laurence, 1990; Dixon & Laurence, 1992). These and other
suggestibility findings have been interpreted alternately as indications that highly
suggestible individuals process information more automatically (Dixon & Laurence,
1992), or that their executive attention networks are more efficient (Raz, Shapiro, Fan, &
Posner, 2002) than their low suggestible counterparts (see Lynn, Laurence, & Inhoff,
2010). Researchers would do well to also determine whether highly suggestible
individuals are better able to inhibit unwanted thoughts and counterproductive response
sets than low suggestible individuals. But at this point in time, it seems reasonably safe
to contend that successful hypnotic responding involves a broad array of coordinated
cognitive and possibly dissociative processes, more specifically, many of which remain
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unspecified to date (Curtis & D’Esposito, 2009; McConkey, 2008).
Fruitful avenues for future research (see Lynn et al., 2008, p.131-132) include
addressing the following questions: “What initiates and terminates response sets?”
“What determines whether some response sets (e.g., positive response expectancies)
are selected and not others (e.g., negative response expectancies)? “What happens
when opposing response sets compete for activation?” “What determines when people
become more conscious of their actions? “What is the nature of the relation of
suggestibility to different executive functions?” And finally, “Do dissociation and
response set theories differ in their ability to account for motoric versus cognitive
suggestions (e.g., amnesia, hallucinations)?”
Sociocognitive theories are “open systems” that incorporate new information and
developments from all areas of psychological science. The same can be said about
modern dissociation theories. According to Woody and Sadler (2004), variations of
dissociation theory (e.g., Jamieson’s revision of dissociated control theory, Jamieson &
Sheehan, 2004; Jamieson & Woody, 2007) have developed both in response to
criticisms from sociocognitive theorists (Kirsch & Lynn, 1998), and as an attempt to
relate these theories to sociocognitive hypnosis. If this trend continues, there may be
further possibilities of rapprochement between theoretical camps (Woody & Sadler,
2008). To be sure, much variability in hypnotic responding remains be accounted for,
with ample room for both sociocognitive and dissociative theories of hypnosis to make
important contributions to better understanding hypnosis.
One highly promising avenue for contributing to knowledge of both sociocognitive
and dissociation theories is using brain imaging and other procedures to reveal the
psychophysiological substrates of suggestion, high suggestibility, the effects of diverse
hypnotic inductions, and the possibility that people respond differently to hypnotic vs.
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nonhypnotic imaginative suggestions. Studies have already gone a long way to show
that: (a) there are clear-cut psychophysiological correlates of suggested experiences,
confirming the sociocognitive view that such experiences are “genuine” (see Lynn,
Kirsch, Knox, & Lilienfeld, 2006; Spiegel, 2009 for reviews); and (b) brain structures
associated with the executive system that are often engaged in cognitive tasks in
everyday life involving focused attention, imagination, absorption and reduced
analytical thought also come into play during hypnosis (Oakley & Halligan, 2010;
Spiegel, 2009).
Unlike the dissociative control model, which posits the induction of a special state
of weakened frontal control as a prerequisite for motoric suggestions, response set
theory would predict that enhanced executive functioning and activation of brain
structures associated with such functioning, would be associated with increased
responsiveness to suggestions (McGeown, Mazzoni, Venneri, & Kirsch, 2009). Although
these conflicting predictions define one boundary that separates the competing theories,
we recognize that excessive planning and monitoring of behaviors or suggestion-related
responses in an analytical or self-conscious manner could well inhibit hypnotic
responsiveness. So there may be considerable validity in the testable claims of
dissociation theorists that responsiveness may be abetted when monitoring and planning
functions are decoupled from executive control (Jamieson & Sheehan, 2004).
Fascinating findings replicated in different laboratories have emerged with
respect to the possible role of the activation of the anterior cingulate cortex in
producing state-like changes in response to an hypnotic induction (see Barabasz &
Barabasz, 2009; Oakley & Halligan, 2010; Raz et al., 2002). Although some
researchers interpret these and other findings as indications of an altered state of
consciousness or trance (see Barabasz & Barabasz, 2008 for an excellent summary of
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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psychophysiological research supporting the view of hypnosis as an altered state),
sociocognitive researchers (Lynn et al., 2008) have urged caution in adopting this
interpretation pending additional studies that better control for soociocognitive variables
including imagery use, relaxation, motivation, and expectancy across both hypnotic
and nonhypnotic inductions and suggestions. This is especially important because the
anterior cingulated cortex has been associated with a wide variety of non-hypnotic
cognitive functions (e.g., monitoring the degree of response conflict; over-riding
prepotent response tendencies; reappraising the relationship between internal states
and events, see Lynn et al. (2006). Additionally, it is entirely consistent with
sociocognitive theory that differences emerge in psychophysiological indicators as a
function of an hypnotic induction. The crucial question for theorists of all persuasions
is to what are these differences attributable: a trance state or the same cognitive
processes and situational demands that control actions and experiences in everyday
life?
Psychophysiological findings are not infrequently difficult to interpret or open to
multiple interpretations--a problem well described by Raz (2011) in his searching critique
of neuroimaging studies presented in this issue. Kirsch (2011) in this issue reports on
findings pertinent to the brain’s default mode network (McGeown, Mazzoni, Venneri, &
Kirsch, 2009). The default network refers to cortical areas that generally are active when
goal directed mental activity is absent. Conversely, decreases in the default mode
signify the presence of goal directed activity. Kirsch and his colleagues determined that
highly hypnotizable individuals experienced such a decrease in the default network after
an hypnotic induction. These same decreases were not observed in low suggestible
participants. Kirsch considered the decrease in default mode activity to be “most
parsimoniously consistent with the idea of hypnosis as a state…” (p. xxx). However, the
The Sociocognitive and Dissociation Theories of Hypnosis: Toward a Rapprochement
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fact that decreases in default mode activity are associated with increased goal-directed
activity is also entirely consistent with SPC theories, which contend that goal-directed
activity is key to hypnotic responsiveness.
Yet another intriguing possibility, which Kirsch’s research intimates, is that
hypnosis produces state-like shifts in consciousness, yet participants still respond in a
goal-directed manner, not unlike what White (1941) proposed many years ago.
Accordingly, state and nonstate accounts of hypnosis may well achieve greater
rapprochement in the future, along with sociocognitive and dissociation accounts of
hypnosis. Whatever turns out to be the case, we entertain little doubt that future
research that illuminates the psychophysiological foundations of hypnosis will shed light
on predictions derived from both sociocognitive and dissociation theories.
In conclusion, the sociocognitive and dissociation perspectives appear to be
closer than ever to achieving a rapprochement based on an appreciation of recent
advances in our understanding of the automaticity and nonconscious aspects of
information processing, goal-setting, and action. We hope that the articles in this special
issue will prove interesting to readers of all theoretical and clinical persuasions. The
SCP has benefited from critiques of researchers and theorists who hold very different
viewpoints, and has advanced by incorporating research from the broader domains of
cognitive, forensic, and clinical psychology. Addressing key theoretical questions in the
context of well-crafted research investigations, maintaining openness to diverse
viewpoints, and developing arguments based on empirical findings, rather than personal
passions, holds promise for achieving greater consensus in the field of hypnosis, and
pinpointing legitimate areas of disagreement, even if a complete rapprochement
between previously competing theoretical camps proves elusive.
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Author Notes
We are very grateful to Arreed Barabasz, Scott Lilienfeld, Irving Kirsch, Amir Raz, Graham
Wagstaff, and Erik Woody for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
... In contrast, the socio-cognitive account (Kirsch & Lynn, 1998;Lynn et al., 1990) emphasizes cognitive, social, and psychological variables involved in responding to hypnotic suggestions (Spanos, 1971;Spanos et al., 1985). As discussed by Jensen et al. (2015) and Lynn and Green (2011), contemporary theories of hypnosis only partially align with these traditional alternative views (for review, see Zahedi & Sommer, 2021), and no consensus has been reached. Independent of ongoing disputes, theories of hypnosis agree on the existence of substantial within-and between-subject variability in responding to hypnotic and posthypnotic suggestions (Shor & Orne, 1963). ...
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Individuals differ in their responsiveness to hypnotic suggestions. However, defining and measuring hypnotizability is contentious because standardized scales, such as the Harvard group scale (HGSHS:A), measure a mixture of general suggestibility and its alteration due to hypnotic induction (hypnotizability). Exploratory factor analyses (FA) of standardized scales indicated their multidimensionality; however, the number and nature of latent factors are debated. We applied Confirmatory FA to the HGSHS:A scores of 477 volunteers and tested several theory-driven models. Scores were best explained by a bifactor model consisting of a G-factor and three correlated minor factors. The presented bifactor model shows that two sources of variability affect HGSHS:A simultaneously. Structural equation modeling revealed that the challenge-ideomotor factor predicts the other two minor factors, implying these suggestions might require more fundamental processes than other types. These results demonstrate the multifaceted and bifactorial structure of hypnotic suggestibility and underscore the desideratum for developing more differentiated scales.
... In contrast, the socio-cognitive account (Kirsch & Lynn, 1998;Lynn, Rhue, & Weekes, 1990) emphasizes cognitive, social, and psychological variables involved in responding to hypnotic suggestions (Spanos, 1971;Spanos, Cobb, & Gorassini, 1985). As discussed by Jensen et al. (2015) and Lynn and Green (2011), contemporary theories of hypnosis only partially align with these traditional alternative views (for review, see Zahedi & Sommer, 2021) and no consensus has been reached. Independent of ongoing disputes, theories of hypnosis agree on the existence of substantial within-and between-subject variability in responding to hypnotic and posthypnotic suggestions (Shor & Orne, 1963). ...
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Hypnosis: A Brief History crosses disciplinary boundaries to explain current advances and controversies surrounding the use of hypnosis through an exploration of the history of its development. examines the social and cultural contexts of the theories, development, and practice of hypnosis crosses disciplinary boundaries to explain current advances and controversies in hypnosis explores shifting beliefs about the nature of hypnosis investigates references to the apparent power of hypnosis over memory and personal identity.
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This article sets out the key issues, activities, and directions for experimental and clinical hypnosis in the context of the definitions in fresh ways by researchers and practitioners in the twenty-first century. It explores some of the reasons why the field of hypnosis has evolved in modern times in the way that it has, and it considers when and why particular questions have been asked about hypnosis to generate its theoretical and empirical knowledge base. People and places have influenced the questions that have been asked about hypnosis and the way they have been answered at particular times. Furthermore this article survey the landscape of the hypnosis field, and suggest some of the next generation of questions that need to be asked as well as some of the methods that should be used. It also point to some yardsticks for the next generation of theoretical and empirical contributions to the field.