Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Can We All Become Delusional with Hypnosis? by guest blogger Lisa Bortolotti

Recent studies on hypnosis have suggested that delusions can be temporarily created in healthy subjects (see work by Amanda Barnier and Rochelle Cox). When you are given a hypnotic suggestion that you will see a stranger when you look in the mirror, it is probable that your behaviour in the hypnotic session will strikingly resemble that of a patient with a delusion of mirrored self misidentification. Both the hypnotic subject and the delusional patient deny that they see themselves in the mirror and claim instead that they see a stranger who looks a bit like them. Their beliefs are resistant to challenges and often accompanied by complex rationalisations of their weird experience.

Why would we want to create delusions in healthy subjects? It’s difficult to study the phenomenon of delusions in the wild, and especially the mechanisms responsible for their formation. Here are some reasons why we may need the controlled environment of the lab:

1. it is not always possible to investigate a clinical delusion in isolation from states of anxiety or depression that affects behaviour - comorbidity makes it harder to detect which behaviours are due to the delusion under investigation, and which are present for independent reasons;

2. ethical considerations significantly constrain the type of questioning that is appropriate with clinical patients because it is important to avoid causing distress to them, and to preserve trust and cooperation, which are beneficial for treatment;

3. for delusions that are rare, such as the delusion of mirrored self misidentification, it is difficult to find a sufficient number of clinical cases for a scientific study.
Evidence from the manifestation of hypnotically induced delusions has the potential to inform therapy for clinical delusions. Moreover, the use of hypnosis as a model for delusions can also inform theories of delusion formation, as analogies can be found in the underlying mechanisms. There are good reasons to expect that the hypnotic process results in neural patterns that are similar to those found in the clinical cases.

Given that during the hypnotic session healthy subjects engage in behaviour that is almost indistinguishable from that of clinical patients, reflecting on this promising research programme can not only help the science of delusions, but also invite us to challenge the perceived gap between the normal and the abnormal.

[This is Lisa's last guest post. Thanks, Lisa!]


Anonymous said...

I'd bet a lot of money you couldn't get me to misidentify myself in a mirror. So no, we can't all become delusional through hypnosis. It does seem that some people are somehow, and bizarrely, susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. This utterly baffles me. But I think that not all of us can be hypnotized. I'll volunteer as a subject if you want to give it as hot. And again, I'll bet a lot of money that I do nothing but laugh at your attempt.

Anonymous said...

You are right, not everybody is susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. That's why the title of the post is a (provocative) question!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say this, but according to the leading theory in social psychology, the "special state" of hypnosis does not even exist - it is all social role play!

Amanda Barnier said...

Great post Lisa! Actually anonymous, recent neuroimaging work (by David Oakley from University College London and Cardiff University, for instance) reveals patterns of neural activation during hypnosis, which are quite distinct from activation outside hypnosis. Indeed David and his colleagues compared the behaviour, experience and neural patterns of hypnotic subjects given suggestions to experience hypnotic paralysis of the left leg with those of unhypnotisable subjects asked to fake hypnosis. Whereas genuinely hypnotized subjects showed patterns similar to patients with clinical forms of functional paralysis, fakers showed quite different patterns. So whereas social factors play a role in hypnosis, they are not even close to the full, complex story. And hypnosis researchers use a range of methods to tease these influences apart.

Anonymous said...

This would be clearly the first time that any psychological theory ("Hypnosis is only role play")must be abandoned because of neuroimaging data. But here again, people are overestimating brain research. The social psychological evidence against special state mechanisms in hypnosis is overwhelming. Said in other words: Hypnosis is bullshit! I even did a book on this:

Anonymous said...

If you want a quick review of the latests research that debunks hypnosis, look here:

Myth: "Hypnosis Is a Unique "Trance" State that Differs in Kind from Wakefulness"

In: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, Barry L. Beyerstein
ISBN: 978-1-4051-3111-7
352 pages
September 2009, Wiley-Blackwell

Kirkland Gable said...

Very interesting work. Where are the data available?

Dear Anonymous, In popular demonstrations of hypnosis there is indeed considerable social pressure to perform. This misleads people, even textbook authors, to discount real hypnotic effects.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Kirkland.

One place to look at is this: 'Developing hypnotic analogues of clinical delusions: mirrored-self misidentification' by Barnier et al., in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 2008.

In the same lab they are now trying to create other types of delusions with hypnosis.

Rochelle Cox, Amanda Barnier and I have also written a paper on the philosophical implications of the study which will appear in Philosophical Psychology.

Anonymous said...

Psychologists have not only debunked popular (stage) demonstrations of hypnosis, they have debunked any such process as hypnosis. If I am wrong with this, you could have won 100 000 $ by now: "The Amazing Kreskin", a popular stage hypnotist by himself, is so convinced that trances don't exist that he is offering $100 000 to anyone who can prove him wrong. So step forward, would-be challengers and brain imaging scientists. But I think the whole case only shows again how much people are "hypnotized" by brain images - which could be bullshit in the end.

Anonymous said...

And some funny thoughts about those brain images, by German comedian Eckart von Hirschhausen:

"Of course it is nice to see certain brain areas lighten up with brain imaging methods. But what does that mean? If you take a photo of a city at night, some areas certainly are brighter than others. But what do we know then about what is being done and thought behind the glowing windows? And probably inhibition ist the most important principle in the brain, and not exitation. As with a photo of a city at night, perhaps the
most exciting things do happen behind those windows that do not light up at that time."

Kirkland Gable said...

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for the info.


Allen Romatar said...

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