Those of you that tune in here on a regular basis will know my thoughts on the use of regression in hypnotherapy, and if you need any further clarification, go listen to my podcasts on the subject, Google my name and regression or you can read a couple of previous entries from this blog here that are relevant:
Questioning the use of regression in hypnotherapy.
Should hypnosis be used to recover memories.
Today I do not want to go over old ground, instead I want to show how the debates presented in some of my own blog entries have been around in all manner of guises in the last century.
Way back in 1948 Gidro-Frank and Bowersbuch conducted a piece of research whereby six selected subjects were hypnotised and it was suggested that they return to being just four months old.
This seems like a very specific age to regress to, doesn’t it? They had a particular reason for using this age and it was due to the fact that textbooks of the day clearly stated that, when a four-month-old baby is stimulated on the sole of the foot, the baby responds with what was known as the Babinski reflex.
The Babinski reflex is where the large toe moves backward and the other toes on that foot all spread out. Those very same textbooks also mentioned that once the same baby reached six months old, from then onwards, will react in the normal way whereby the toes move forward. That is what is meant by the Babinski reflex.
So our hypnosis experiment conducted by Gidro-Frank and Bowersbuch attempted to see whether that same physiological Babinski reflex response would happen when hypnosis was used to regress the subjects back to the age of four months.
Following the research experiment, it was reported that half of the test subjects did actually regress to the age of four months old and responded psychophysiologically to the stimulation given to the foot. That is, they showed the Babinski response.
There was the evidence needed to show hypnosis being a special state whereby people could go back and recreate the same state within themselves with accuracy, of a much younger age; the therapeutic applications would be enormous! Bear in mind also the Freud’s work was still fresh at the time of this experiment and at that time Freud had only just passed away (just under 10 years previously).
A victory for regression proponents and special state theorists all round then?
Well, the celebrations (if there were actually any at all) were not long lived, and today most professionals within the hypnosis and hypnotherapy field are unaware of this experiment. As Theodore Barber and colleagues Spanos and Chaves later pointed out, the findings of this experiment were invalid.
It was later shown that the textbooks referred to earlier were incorrect. The Babinski response is not actually characteristic of four month old babies. Even as far back as the 1921, the author Burr showed real wide variations in the response of 69 infants and as a result, concluded that,
“no specific movements of the toes could be considered as characteristic of the infantile response to stimulation on the sole of the foot.”
Then again in 1930, Wolff showed that only 13 of 389 four month old babies actually responded with the defined Babinski response.
It would seem that the basis of the research experiment was undermined by basing it on textbooks that had not actually used any proper evidence to support their claims. The Babinski response was not a characteristic response of four month old babies at all.
Well, some people may still be asking the reasons for three of the six grown-up subjects in the Gidro-Frank and Bowersbuch experiment showing a Babinski response.
In 1956, Theodore Sarbin suggested that the subjects may have become aware of the purpose of the experiment and may have voluntarily performed the Babinski response. Thus, they knowingly moved their large toe backwards while spreading their toes out. For the record, I seem to have an inability to do this as I have been trying to do so in my office this very morning.
We could speculate and discuss a wide variety of reasons for the responses in the experiment, but most nonstate theorists and those not supporting regression in the field of hypnosis tend to agree that what was important was that the Gidro-Frank and Bowersbuch experiment did not successfully show a special effect that is unique to four month old babies.
So it is argued that there is no real evidence as a result of this experiment to suggest that the subjects were in a special state and truly re-experiencing that age due to hypnosis.
You see? These debates have been around since my grandparents were youngsters!
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Very valid point Jon, agreed. It does impress people who tend not to question or examine that literature, quite right.
Thank you 🙂