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State or Non-State Theories of Hypnosis


For people with an interest in hypnosis, they might not know that there are two theories about hypnosis that are currently in favour, state and non state theories. Some of the main points can be found below. Whichever theory a practitioner adopts one thing remains the same is that hypnosis is a very affective vehicle for therapy and change.


Main theories:

  • There is a special trance state
  • It is marked by imagination and suggestibility
  • It involves reality distortion eg amnesia
  • Involuntary behaviour
  • Believe EEG will show different physiology in future


Actions governed by:

  • Contention scheduling – habitual actions triggered
  • Supervisory attention system – more complex and less familiar actions
  • Hypnosis disengages supervisory system and subject’s behaviour is triggered by suggestion – automatic and involuntary.

NEO-DISSOCIATION (Hilgard, 1986)

  • Actions governed in normal way, but awareness of them is dissociated. Normally the ‘executive ego’ allows what is important to be focused on.
  • Hypnotist influences priority.
  • Hidden observer – iced water and pain control. Subjects graded pain from hand in iced water. No suggestions = high pain. Suggestions = low pain. Hidden observer asked = high pain (written with free hand)
  • Trance logic – experiments to see if people were in trance or complying (Orne, 1972) holding contradictory beliefs without conflict, eg ‘transparent person on chair’ described by those in a trance. Also avoided walking into a chair after negative hallucination, ie they couldn’t see it but knew it was there.


Main theories:

  • Response to suggestion is normal psychology
  • Responsiveness is due to person’s attitudes, imagination etc
  • Phenomena are within normal human abilities
  • Involuntary behaviours can be explained in other ways than as a trance
  • No proof will ever be found

COMPLIANCE (Spanos et al, 1989)

  • Relies on accurate recounting by the subject. ‘Number 8 experiment’ 45 highly hypnotisable people given suggestion they would see blank paper. 15 did. Interviewed and told fakers say nothing; real see it and it fades. 14 then said they saw ‘8’.


  • The adoption of a cognitive strategy, eg with suggestions of analgesia subjects use self-distraction; amnesia ® attention switching interrupting recall. More active, subjects can be trained to be actively involved.

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