So having tip toed around the subject by looking at gender and age in relation to hypnotizability during the past week (you’ll notice I am spelling the word with a Z instead of an S now due to so many emails from you all insisting that I stop attempting to be so English with my spelling), we now get on to elements of personality and what it means in relation to our responsiveness to hypnosis.
A great deal of research and study has been done exploring this.
There is plenty of research that has been carried out examining a variety of standardised personality tests and profiles in relation to hypnotizability, and of the research I have seen and the meta analyses I have read, there seems to be similar results. In 1992 professor Irving Kirsch and Council had work featured in a book by Fromm and Nash Contemporary Hypnosis Research and concluded that out of all the personality tests, profiling systems and measures they examined, there was no distinguishable correlation between any of them and hypnotizability.
Out of the other major studies examining the effect of personality types and hypnotizability within standardised personality tests, Nordenstrom, Council, and Meier in 2002 featured in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis and a contribution to the book Pieces of the personality puzzle (book editors Funder and Ozer) by Costa and McCrae in 1997 also found no real relationship between hypnotizability and the personality characteristics presented by the models given.
Hmmm… This could have spelled the end of todays (potentially very short) blog entry.
However, this is not necessarily the end of the story, thank goodness. Way back in 1970, in the book, Personality and Hypnosis: A Study of Imaginative Involvement, Hilgard states that hypnotizability is best understood in terms of an individual’s ability to be imaginatively involved, which she defined as;
“the capacity for nearly total immersion in some activity to the exclusion of irrelevant competing stimuli.”
Hilgard championed the notion that if an individual was good at being selectively focused on or immersed in imaginary experience as meaning an individual would be responsive to hypnosis. Now, the research exploring this notion by Hilgard offers up a range of varying interpretations and different, often non-conclusive results. maybe this is because of the highly subjective ways that we interpret our imaginations and the capacity for them to be so wide ranging in differences. I mean, try measuring responses of the imagination, right?
I have watched a film with friends were I have been terrified because I have imagined certain aspects of it and let my mind fill in the blanks cleverly left out by the film, and my friends have been yawning and rather perplexed why I responded that way. I think in all of our lives we encounter people whose imaginations tend to be capable of high levels of abstract thought and creativity, while others can be staid and one dimensional.
Some schools of thought believe that the way our imagination works and how we react and respond to it is an important factor when it comes to hypnotizability. Although we do have a number of common signs that we look for to observe whether someone is in hypnosis and we test their levels of responsiveness, the individual experiencing it has a subjective experience open to much interpretation.
At what point does a hypnotised person actually think “ah-ha, this is hypnosis that I am experiencing” ??
What people experience when they are hypnotised can vary within individuals. Sometimes it may be barely recognisable from the usual waking, day-to-day way of being, while for others, it can be incredibly profound, deep seeming, way-out, with a variety of particular sensations and so on. I don’t think anyone truly experiences the exact same thing as another, and how would we know anyway? We can empathise and use language to find parallels, but to to truly know each time… Though heck, those clever guys in the laboratories using EEG monitors and so on may well be able to conclude to the contrary soon… I digress.
So for someone who might describe themselves as lacking in a flamboyant imagination, maybe experiencing a less deep or intense sense of hypnosis, they may not necessarily believe they were hypnotised… Especially if they compare their experience to someone who has a wild imagination and had an intense experience of hypnosis… Thus “proving” their experience was not the same and therefore they were not hypnotised.
Or if they were not properly educated prior to the hypnosis session, they may even regale the classic line of “I clearly was not hypnotised, I could hear ever word you said to me” – who said hypnosis renders you deaf!??
If the less imaginative person was being hypnotised by someone inducing hypnosis in some abstract fashion… Like many a new-age hypnotist tends to do… And uses colours, light and ‘energy’ flows to deepen the state and connect them to the universe’s life force, then the person being hypnotised may well just not be in a position to connect with that sort of thing and believe they are not hypnotisable.
The individuals imaginative capabilities may well need to be factored in when you consider your own approach with someone.
Moving away from the faffy approach to hypnosis and getting back into some research and evidence based stuff then… In his 2000 work featured in the American Journal of Hypnosis entitled A deeper understanding of hypnosis, Theodore Barber developed and built upon notions of imagination in responsiveness to hypnosis and wrote about the “fantasy-prone” individual within his study of highly hypnotizable individuals. Barber stated that people who were “fantasy prone” are those who can be immersed in their own world, daydream greatly and fantasise often are also very responsive to hypnosis indeed.
Others have added to the body of work on this subject by discussing the ability to become absorbed in an experience and being responsive to hypnosis. When an absorption measuring scale was put together in the 1970s called the Tellegen Absorption Scale, (which measured the individual’s ability to be absorbed) those measuring high on the scale were also deemed highly responsive to hypnosis when explored by Council and Huff in 1990 in the British Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis as well as some other studies.
So as far as personality goes, there is not masses to cling on to as far as hypnotizability is concerned… However, facets of an individual such as imagination, fantasy proneness and ability to be absorbed in experience all seem to be things to bear in mind when it come to responsiveness to hypnosis.