5. Mechanisms

The true mechanism of hypnosis has been a mystery ever since it first saw the light of day, and the details of its inner workings are still being heavily disputed.

As of today, there are two principal groups of theories trying to elucidate the mechanism of hypnosis: (1) dissociation theories, and (2) social cognitive theories.





5.1. DISSOCIATION THEORIES
Dissociation, or “state”, theories define hypnosis-as-product as an altered state of consciousness.

This altered state of consciousness, or “trance”, arises as a result of the breakdown of the subject’s innate ability to discriminate between internally produced, or “volitional”, events and externally produced, or “non-volitional”, events, and thus experience the responses to hypnotic suggestions as being involuntary [Haggard (2003].

According to dissociation theories, the human mind may be divided in 3 functional units: (1) executive control, (2) executive monitoring, and (3) subsystems of control (Figure 9.2.) [Woody and Sadler (2008)].

5.1.1. Executive control
Executive control is responsible for the conscious planning and decision of willed events. Once an event has been decided by executive control, the decision is sent to executive monitoring for supervision and modulation, as well as to subsystems of control for integration and execution.

5.1.2. Executive monitoring
Executive monitoring is responsible for conscious supervision of the decision of willed events by executive control, as well as for the supervision of the execution of those events by the subsystems of control. If executive monitoring finds discrepancies between the intended result of the event by executive control and the actually result of the event by subsystems of control, executive monitoring will send information about the quality and quantity of this discrepancy back to executive control for correction.

5.1.3. Subsystems of control
Subsystems of control are capable both of execution of conscious commands received from executive control, as well as executing unconscious commands autonomously. Once an event has been executed, subsystems of control will send back the actual result of that event to executive monitoring for supervision and modulation.

Executive control and executive monitoring are, in conjunction, often referred to as the conscious, or “explicit”, mind, while the subsystems of control is often referred to as the unconscious, or “implicit”, mind [Kihlstrom, 1994].

Dissociation theories state that hypnosis-as-product occurs due to the separation, or “dissociation”, of one or more of these functional units from one another, and, as such, become oblivious to the actions performed by the remaining units [Hilgard (1977)].

There are three main theories as to how these three functional units are separated from each other to produce hypnosis-as-product: (1) theory of dissociated experience, (2) theory of dissociated control, and (3) theory of second-order dissociated control.

5.1.4. Theory of dissociated experience
According to the theory of dissociated experience, hypnosis-as-procedure acts by weakening the communication from executive control to executive monitoring. This results in all hypnotic suggestions to be initiated voluntarily by executive control, but executive monitoring will only receive information about the event from subsystems of control, and, as such, interpret the event as being involuntary [Kihlstrom, 1992].

5.1.5. Theory of dissociated control
According to the theory of dissociated control, hypnosis-as-procedure acts by weakening the communication from executive control to subsystems of control. This results in all hypnotic suggestions to be initiated involuntary by subsystems of control, and executive monitoring will correctly receive information about the event from subsystems of control as being involuntary [Woody and Bowers, 1994].

5.1.6. Theory of second-order dissociated control
According to the theory of second-order dissociated control, hypnosis-as-procedure acts by weakening the communication from executive monitoring back to executive control. This results in all hypnotic suggestions to be initiated voluntarily by executive control, but executive control will disregard all information of discrepancies between intended and actual result of the event sent back to it from executive monitoring, and, as such, executive monitoring will interpret the event as being involuntary [Jamieson and Sheehan, 2004].

All of the three main dissociation theories are independently capable of explaining the responses of a subject to all relevant hypnotic suggestions. In addition to this, all of the main three dissociation theories are fully compatible with one another, giving rise to the possibility of more than one dissociation theory being at work during hypnosis-as-product.


5.2. SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORIES
Social cognitive, or “non-state”, theories define hypnosis-as-product as a complex social behavior.

This complex social behavior does not require an altered state of consciousness, and is rather the result of two groups of processes: (1) social psychological processes, and (2) cognitive behavioral processes [Spanos (1986)].

5.2.1. Social psychological processes
Social psychological, or “interpersonal”, processes regard the interaction between the subject and the hypnotist during hypnosis-as-procedure, and its role in the development of hypnosis-as-product. In other words, these processes consider the relationship between the contributing parties in the context of hypnosis-as-procedure as the origin of hypnosis-as-product [Sarbin (1950)].

5.2.2. Cognitive behavioral processes
Cognitive behavioral, or “intrapersonal”, processes, on the other hand, regard the thoughts and actions of the subject during hypnosis-as-procedure, and their role in the development of hypnosis-as-product. In other words, these processes consider the ideas the subject harbors in respect to hypnosis-as-procedure as the origin of hypnosis-as-product [Barber (1969)].

Based on these two groups of processes, social cognitive theories define hypnosis-as-product as a result of the complex interaction between eleven social psychological- and cognitive behavioral traits: (1) belief, (2) willingness, (3) expectancy, (4) rapport, (5) attention, (6) cognition, (7) compliance, (8) motivation, (9) imagination, (10) absorption, and (11) attribution [Lynn et al. (2008)].

5.2.3. Belief
Belief refers to the presumption of the subject as to the existence, or lack thereof, of hypnosis-as-product.

5.2.4. Willingness
Willingness refers to the approach of the subject towards whether or not he or she will respond to the hypnotic suggestion.

5.2.5. Expectancy
Expectancy refers to the presupposition of the subject regarding how he or she will respond to the hypnotic suggestion.

5.2.6. Rapport
Rapport refers to the level of trust and affinity the subject has towards the hypnotist as both a therapist and as a fellow human being.

5.2.7. Attention
Attention refers to the ability of the subject to focus onto the words of the hypnotist and detect the hypnotic suggestion once offered.

5.2.8. Cognition
Cognition refers to the ability of the subject to understand the meaning and purpose of the hypnotic suggestion.

5.2.9. Compliance
Compliance refers to the inclination of the subject to agree to the idea of the hypnotic suggestion once understood.

5.2.10. Motivation
Motivation refers to the predisposition of the subject to actively pursue the experience of the hypnotic suggestion.

5.2.11. Imagination
Imagination refers to the ability of the subject to conceptualize the changes called for by the hypnotic suggestion.

5.2.12. Absorption
Absorption refers to the ability of the subject to immerse him- or herself in the visualizations resulting from the hypnotic suggestion.

5.2.13. Attribution
Attribution refers to how the subject interprets the response to the hypnotic suggestion during the occurrence of that particular response as well as once hypnosis-as-product has been terminated.

Once each of these behavioral traits have been sufficiently fulfilled, the subject will experience the responses to hypnotic suggestions as involuntary and, thus, experience hypnosis-as-product.





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