2. History

Many theorists in the field of hypnosis have conjectured the origins of hypnosis as everything from the biblical Middle East and ancient Egypt to ancient Greece and the European middle-ages. However, due to the lack of hard evidence as to the process involved in these early descriptions of trance, most historians now coin the origins of hypnosis on the European mainland at the brink of the French revolution [Waterfield (2002)].

From its meager origins more than 200 years ago, the most important historical figures contributing to the development and acceptance of hypnosis as a science have been: (1) Franz Mesmer, (2) James Braid, (3) Hippolyte Bernheim, (4) Pierre Janet, (5) Clark Hull, (6) Ernest Hilgard, and (7) Nicholas Spanos.

As already mentioned, most historians coin the origins of hypnosis in Europe at the end of the 18th century. More specifically, the origins of hypnosis are placed in the hands of one man; The German physician Franz A. Mesmer (1734-1815) in his residence in Vienna, Austria, in 1774. According to Mesmer, the universe and all living beings contained within it had a magnetic fluid flowing through them, and it was the disarrangement of this fluid within each individual that caused disease and suffering [Pattie (1994)].

Though his practice in Paris he had so much relative success with treating patients by realigning these disarrangements of the magnetic fluid that, in 1784, King Louis XVI (1754-1793) appointed a French royal commission chaired by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) to scrutinize Mesmer’s methods. By the end of their review, the commission concluded that the treatments were most likely due to belief and imagination induced in the patients by Mesmer [Franklin et al. (1784/2002)].

Mesmer himself denied this to his dying day.

After the discreditation of animal magnetism by the French royal commission and by the medical community as a whole, Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), an academic philosopher at the Scottish School of Common Sense, urged the medical community to make sense of and salvage the elements of animal magnetism which still held water [Stewart (1827)].

The Scottish surgeon James Braid (1795-1860) took Stewart’s recommendations literarily, and not many years later he had developed a new scientific theory based on animal magnetism he dubbed neuro-hypnotism, or “nervous sleep” [Braid (1843)].

Braid accredited the effects of hypnotism to monoideism, the explicit focus of attention on a single object or idea. Later he expanded his explanation of hypnotic phenomena with the concept of monoideodynamism, the mere concentration on an idea of a somatic response being sufficient to produce an involuntary reflex powerful enough to materialize that particular somatic response [Braid (1855)].

During the best part of the 19th century it was commonly believed that only certain individuals with certain abnormal, or diseased, thought patterns had the ability exhibit hypnotic phenomena. Some hypnotists, such as Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), went as far as to claim that hypnosis was an abnormal state of nervous function only exhibited in hysterical women.

Hippolyte Bernheim (1840-1919), a French physician and neurologist, was the first to dispute this with his theory that the suggestions offered to the subject by the hypnotist were the cause of the hypnotic phenomena, and that any individual who were offered such suggestions had the ability to undergo hypnosis [Bernheim (1884)].

Pierre M. F. Janet (1859-1947), a French psychologist and former student of Jean-Martin Charcot, defined the idea of the human mind being divided into two parts: the conscious mind, preoccupied with voluntary thoughts and actions, and the subconscious, or “unconscious”, mind, preoccupied with involuntary thoughts and actions.

From this standpoint, Janet introduced the concept of dissociation, a partial or complete disruption of the connection between the conscious and subconscious mind, being the mechanism of hypnosis [Janet (1892)].

The American psychologist Clark L. Hull (1884-1952) was the first to bring hypnosis into the realm of modern science with his experimental and statistical analysis of hypnotic phenomena. Through his systematic approach, Hull introduced experimental algorithms for dealing with hypnosis in a laboratory setting and cleared away much of the previous mysticism that had surrounded the field.

Amongst others, Hull demonstrated that there is no phenomenon that is specific to hypnosis, and that all, so called, hypnotic phenomena can be produced to a lesser extent outside the confines of hypnotic induction. On the basis of this discovery, Hull pioneered the idea of hypnotic induction doing no more than heightening the suggestibility of the person on which the hypnotic induction is being performed [Hull (1933)].

Reviewing Janet’s original work, the American psychologist Ernest R. Hilgard (1904-2001) redefined the general concept of dissociation and introduced his very own theory he named neodissociation. According to Hilgard, hypnosis did not occur due to something as monumental as the disruption of the conscious from the unconscious, but was rather a product of the separation of certain mental processes from the main body of consciousness [Hilgard (1973)].

Hilgard’s theory of neodissociation has become the foundation on which modern state theories of hypnosis are based.

Hilgard, together with Andre M. Weitzenhoffer (1921-2004), also was the founding father of modern hypnotic susceptibility scales with the development of the Stanford hypnotic susceptibility scales [Weitzenhoffer and Hilgard (1962)].

The Stanford hypnotic susceptibility scales are still being used to this very day to define a person’s ability to undergo hypnosis, and serve as the basis from which most other modern hypnotic susceptibility scales stem.

Following Hull’s discovery on the association between hypnotic and non-hypnotic phenomena, many hypnotists began to elucidate to which extent hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestibility were correlated.

With his social psychological view on hypnosis, the American psychologist Theodore R. Sarbin (1911-2005) introduced role taking theory, considering hypnosis as no more than a social role the person undergoing hypnosis strives to fulfill. With this theory, Sarbin was also the first to abandon the view of hypnosis being an altered state of consciousness all together [Sarbin (1950)].

Following in Sarbin’s footsteps, the American psychologist Theodore X. Barber (1927-2005) soon thereafter developed a cognitive behavioral approach to hypnosis. Barber’s task motivation theory defined hypnosis as a goal-directed activity that the person undergoing hypnosis will try to make sense of and work towards succeeding in [Barber (1969)].

Finally, Canadian psychologist Nicholas P. Spanos (1942-1994) united both Sarbin’s and Barber’s theories with his own multifactorial social cognitive theory, which considered both social psychological and cognitive behavioral processes as integral to the development of the hypnotic experience [Spanos (1991)].

Spanos’ multifactorial social cognitive theory has become the basis of modern non-state theories of the present.

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