Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Origins of Hypnosis
Hypnosis s famous for its roots in pseudoscience and metaphysical innuendo. Dr. Franz Mesmer in the 18th centuryclaimed he could influence his patients minds by manipulating their "magnetic fluids." At first he used actual magnets, before later favoring careful hand movements from a distance to his subjects.
It would be Dr. James Braid, a scottish philosipher who would hone Mesmer's in a rational matter, devoid of any supernatural claims. He would latter coin the term 'Hypnotism'.
"It may here be requisite for me to explain, that by the term Hypnotism, or Nervous Sleep, which frequently occurs in the following pages, I mean a peculiar condition of the nervous system, into which it may be thrown by artificial contrivance, and which differs, in several respects, from common sleep or the waking condition. I do not allege that this condition is induced through the transmission of a magnetic or occult influence from my body into that of my patients; nor do I profess, by my processes, to produce the higher [i.e., supernatural] phenomena of the Mesmerists. My pretensions are of a much more humble character, and are all consistent with generally admitted principles in physiological and psychological science. Hypnotism might therefore not inaptly be designated, Rational Mesmerism, in contra-distinction to the Transcendental Mesmerism of the Mesmerists." -Observations on Trance or Human Hybernation, 1850, 'Preface.'
Braid found that he induced trances with intense, unwavering stares.
Hypnosis has since undergone many connotations and applications. Recently, scientists like Amir Raz, a former professional magician and current assistant professor at Columbia University, have been attempting to bring hypnotism back into the realm of neurological study.
Raz conducted a study with groups of adults who were highly susceptible to hypnotic influence to see if they could perform a "stroop test" with greater aptitude after hypnotic induction
A stroop test is an experiment in which subjects are asked to identify colors as quickly as possible. The colors however are presented in the context of colored letters spelling the names of different colors, for instance the word "Blue" with yellow lettering. This briefly confuses the subjects, as their literate associative minds are forced to reconcile with sensory input before generating a response.
Raz found that through hypnotic induction, he could override the literate functions in his subjects. After suggesting to his subjects through hypnosis that the words would appear as gibberish.
As the study progressed, Raz found that subjects highly susceptible to hypnosis did not show brain activity in the areas used for visual language recognition, and thus recognized the colors instantly.
This data indicates that the powers of hypnotic suggestion are powerful enough to temporarily suspend ones recognition of language. By suggestion, Raz was able to manipulate the higher brain functions of his subjects so as to manipulate or at least "deafen" lower function sensory input.
The implications of this and similar studies are manifold. Hypnosis while often dramatized and embellished, is a very real phenomenon. Hypnosis does indeed have many current clinical uses for treating depression, performance anxiety, addiction and other things. It can however also be used in studies similar to Raz's in order to more specifically identify brain structure and cognition. Hypothetically, if one were to devise a test similar to the stroop test, with more layers of sensory input (smell, touch sound etc.) one could use hypnotic suggestion to more firmly postulate the "pecking order" of each of these sensory inputs in the gestalt of experience.
Dr. Amir Raz Stroop test Case Study