David Godot, Psy.D.

Hypnotizability May Be Unrelated To Dissociation & Cognitive Inhibition

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The prevailing theories of hypnotic susceptibility hold that the ability to experience hypnotic phenomena is a function of either dissociative capacity or of attentional control. However, an upcoming study in the journal Consciousness And Cognition claims to challenge both of these ideas.

The researchers administered the Waterloo-Stanford Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility (Form C), the Dissociative Experiences Scale (normed for non-clinical populations), and a series of cognitive inhibition tasks to 180 study participants. They conclude, decisively, that “the data ruled out even moderate correlations between hypnotic suggestibility and all the measures of dissociation and cognitive inhibition.”

The implications of these findings are uncertain. After all, the idea that hypnotizability exists as a biological or personality trait at all is controversial. From the perspective of those therapists who suspect that everyone is susceptible to some form of hypnotic experience, it is unsurprising that investigations into hypnotic ability should lead to unpredictable and ultimately meaningless results.

But even if we assume the validity of hypnotic susceptibility as an individual trait, then these findings are of questionable value. With regard to dissociation, this study’s findings are not new. Many conflicting studies have found varying levels of relationship between hypnosis and dissociation, which are now generally considered to be related but separate phenomena.

The study’s findings on cognitive inhibition are interesting, but without the use of a reliable measure of inhibitory cognitive control little can be said other than more research in this area may be warranted.

Citation:  Dienes, Z., Brown, E., Hutton, S., Kirsch, I., Mazzoni, G., & Wright, D.B. (2009) Hypnotic suggestibility, cognitive inhibition, and dissociation. Consciousness And Cognition.