Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hypnotic “rigmarole”

An article in the American Psychological Association Monitor summarizes a bunch of recent hypnosis research. Among the findings, hypnosis researcher Amir Raz says, “We now have evidence showing that highly hypnotizable people do not need to be hypnotized in order to benefit from suggestion”. (I think benefit from here means be controlled by.) In one of his studies, “highly hypnotizable” people who were NOT hypnotized at the time were told that certain words they were about to see would be gibberish. They then performed certain tricky tasks involving those words as if the words were gibberish when in fact they were not.

So maybe hypnosis isn't the real independent variable? As long as you're dealing with suggestible people, you can just make the suggestions without performing “hypnotic induction using methods such as guided imagery and visualization,” as in the hypnosis studies, and if you're not working with suggestible people, the hypnosis won't work anyway?

Have adequate controls never been placed on this research, in all the years of publications in all the dedicated journals all over the world? Only now has anyone checked to see if all that stagecraft stuff was needed?

I wish the Monitor  article had explored that. Maybe the article misrepresents the state of hypnosis research. But given the article's closing quote, I'm not sure.

Hypnosis psychoneurophysiology researcher John Gruzelier (Imperial College London), while acknowledging that easily hypnotizable people are suggestible even when not hypnotized, still maintains that hypnosis itself is crucial. His words as quoted by the article are a little troubling:
“It's my feeling that we wouldn't bother going through the whole rigmarole of hypnosis if it was unnecessary,” he says.
Obviously, this is one quoted sentence, lifted by a magazine writer from whatever else Gruzelier may have said. He is an enormously active, well-published researcher whose views are surely more nuanced than represented here, and it would be unfair to paste him on the basis of this quote.

Nevertheless, the view as presented is senseless. We might “go through the whole rigmarole” because no one had done the proper research to notice it wasn't needed! We may go through it because we're professionally committed to the idea of hypnosis or because we like the feeling we get when executing the procedures. Or because we're fascinated by the attitude of the hypnotized subject before us. There are many, many reasons people, even researchers, might persist in a superstitious behavior. A psychologist should know that better than anyone.


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