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hypnotic phenomena, personality model, personality trait, consistent result

Who can use hypnosis effectively?

Author: Todd I. Stark

From the Hypnosis FAQ by Todd I. Stark

Web version, revision 2. Last update: February 16, 1997.



Nearly anyone can make use of hypnosis in some sense. However,
there are distinct differences in how easily people can respond
to suggestion in a way that seems involuntary or effortless. This
is in important aspect of induction.


The most dramatic and consistent result in hypnosis has been the
discovery of "hypnotizability." This refers to an ability
to experience the classic hypnotic phenomena. Hypnotizability
is remarkably stable over time although it can sometimes be modified
by various means with some effort. About ten percent of the population
is naturally "highly hypnotizable," and a few percent
find classic hypnotic responses almost impossible to produce no
matter what they try. The remainder of the population, most of
us, are capable of experiencing some of the hypnotic phenomena
fairly easily but have difficulty with others. Since most uses
of hypnosis involve imagination and fantasy rather than primary
suggestibility per se, hypnosis of a sort is still possible even
with "low hypnotizable" clients, but it may not be the
best choice of technique for therapy with them.


The closest thing that hypnotizability is related to is the quality
of imaginative absorption. The correlation with imaginative
absorption is not nearly strong enough to call them the same thing
as hypnotizability. Absorption is the ability to become particularly
involved in something, such that things that would normally be
very distracting are not even noticed. Absorption is believed
to be a personality trait, likely a sub-scale of the trait of
openness from the "Big Five" personality model.
Openness measures our willingness to explore and to consider unusual
alternatives. Some of the most effective methods of improving
hypnotic responsiveness involve engaging in behaviors that are
most typical of people high in the openness trait.


A strong talent for imaginative absorption is not enough to guarantee
hypnotizability. Hypnosis-relevant attitudes and the relationship
between the hypnotist and the client also play an important role,
as does a capacity to respond in an automatic way to language.
While hypnotic suggestions often involve compatible images, or
goal directed fantasies, these are not essential for response.
In fact, research has shown that hypnotic responses to verbal
suggestions occur even when we are concentrating on goal directed
fantasies that are incompatible with the suggestion. For example,
a suggestion that the hand is light might be combined with imagery
of a heavy weight pulling the hand down. The hand still rises.
So we know that while vivid imagery is a big part of making use
of hypnosis, it is not the sole explanation for or cause of hypnotic
responding.

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