Dr. Wesley R. Wells

Wrote for the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology. The article below appeared in "An Outline of Abnormal Psychology" (1929, A. S. Barnes & Co., Inc.) edited by Gardner Murphy.

Waking Hypnosis

 - Wesley R. Wells -

          THE TECHNIQUE of waking by hypnosis which I employ may be described in part by contrasting it with the usual method of sleeping hypnosis. To hypnotize by the most usual sleeping method one begins by explaining to the subject the psychological conditions of normal sleep. One calls attention to the part played by a lessening of external stimuli, especially light and sound, by the concentration of attention on some one simple situation, as in the classic method of putting oneself to sleep by counting sheep, and by the sleep-producing effect of slight monotonous stimuli. One may speak of the way in which the mother puts her child to sleep, and of the sleepiness that often comes upon a man while in the barber's chair, experiencing the manipulations of the barber. The hypnotizer explains that he is about to employ similar methods to induce in the subject first a drowsy condition and finally a condition of deep sleep, like normal sleep except that the subject will always be conscious of what the operator is saying. Then, in terms of the usual immobility of the body during sleep, contractures may be explained. In terms of normal dreams, illusions and hallucinations occurring in the hypnotic sleep are made clear. Amnesia that may follow the hypnotic sleep is compared to the amnesia for one's dream that usually follows waking from natural sleep. Somnambulism in the hypnotic sleep is compared with the somnambulism that sometimes occurs in natural sleep. Then the hynotizer proceeds to suggest drowsiness in various ways. He may have the subject gaze fixedly upon a bright object and at the same time suggest that a feeling of drowsiness will begin to appear. If the eyes soon close so that the subject cannot open them, the operator says this is because of the sleep that is overcoming the subject. Passes may be used, accompanied by suggestions of sleep; and so on, according to old and familiar methods. The subject manifests increasingly the external signs of drowsiness, and actually begins to feel drowsy and sleepy; and finally he may fall into the somnambulistic state, though more frequently stopping short of this.

Now, in all this there have been the following features: first, a preliminary explanation in terms of sleep; second, a continued suggestion of sleep by direct and indirect means; third, an experiencing by the subject of the familiar symptoms of drowsiness and sleep; and fourth, some of the external bodily signs of drowsiness and sleep. Those who, like Munsterberg, Sidis, Coriat, and Prince, as referred to above, explain hypnosis primarily in terms of concentration of the attention and of dissociation, without reference to sleep, would not give a preliminary explanation to the subject such as I have described; but the other three points which I have mentioned would apply in most cases to their practice of hypnotism. In what I call waking hypnosis, however, all four of these features are absent; sleep is not mentioned in the preliminary explanation to the subject; sleep is not suggested, directly or indirectly; the subject experiences neither drowsiness nor sleepiness, if we may trust his introspective account; and there are present none of the objective indications of drowsiness or sleep...

Waking hypnosis may be used either in group or in individual experiments. The group experiment has two main purposes (aside from its therapeutic uses): first, to teach large numbers easily and quickly, through their own experiences as subjects or through observation of a considerable number of other subjects, the meaning of hypnosis; and second, to select the better subjects for individual experiments. After a preliminary explanation to a group of students regarding the chief principles of dissociation and of suggestion, direct suggestions to the group that their eyes, when closed, cannot be opened, or that their hands, if clasped together tightly, cannot be unclasped, will cause such contractures in a considerable proportion, if not in the majority or even all, of the group, if made properly, as a little experience enables any one to make them. I recently obtained results with 100 per cent of a group of 12, and a few months ago I obtained results with 24 of a group of 28. In no instance have I failed to get results from some members of the group.

In individual experiments the meaning of dissociation and the fact of the independent functioning of dissociated "neurograms" (to use Prince's term) may be illustrated by suggesting to the subject in the waking state amnesia, for example, for his name, and then by causing, through appropriate suggestions, automatic writing of the name while the amnesia still persists. By proper suggestion to a good subject one can cause automatic writing such that the subject is not aware either of what his hand is writing or even that his hand is writing anything. To do an experiment like this by waking hypnosis takes only a short time, seems very matter of fact, and can be done with subjects who have never been hynotized before. If one wishes in this connection to illustrate how the planchette works, a planchette may be substituted for pencil and paper. In elementary classes this is worth while. It was Gurney, as James relates, who first conceived the idea of using the planchette to "tap" the subconscious processes involved in post-hypnotic suggestions; but Gurney used sleeping hypnosis for this purpose.

Such an experiment as I have described would illustrate what Prince devotes considerable space to, in The Unconscious (pp. 15ff.), namely, the conservation of forgotten experiences. An experiment designed to show the independent functioning of dissociated neurograms in a greater degree is Prince's experiment in subconscious calculation. This experiment, however, can he done by means of waking hypnosis, with subjects never before hypnotized. With a subject in whom amnesia can be produced quickly in the waking state, a problem in mental arithmetic may be given, for which amnesia is produced immediately, before there is time for any effort at solution. The suggestion may be made that the answer will be written automatically at the end of five minutes, with complete amnesia for the problem persisting during this time. In the working out of these suggestions we have an illustration of the simultaneous activity of the dissociated cerebral processes involved in solving the arithmetical problem, and of other cerebral processes involved in conscious attention to the class discussion or to some assigned task. Professor Woodworth refers approvingly to one of Prince's experiments of this sort, with a subject, however, who has a double personality; and Professor Woodworth says, "It is weird business, however interpreted, and raises the question whether anything of the same sort ... occurs in ordinary experience." If the experiment is done with a subject never hypnotized before, selected from the class, and in a completely waking state, there is nothing in the least "weird" about it; and it answers the question which Woodworth asks in the last part of the sentence quoted above, being evidence that "separate [cerebral] fractions of the individual" can and do function independently and intelligently at the same time, in strictly normal and healthy subjects...

The step to effective autosuggestion, or autohypnosis, is shorter from waking than from sleeping hypnosis. My usual routine in giving a first lesson in autosuggestion is first to close the eyes of the subject, then to produce contractures of the hands, and then to produce analgesia in one hand or arm - all by direct suggestion in the waking state. Then I ask the subject to produce the same results by his own suggestion to himself. After he has done this, instruction may be given in the effective use of autosuggestion in various practical whys. I recently gave an interesting lesson in autosuggestion to one of my students. When he had produced analgesia in his right hand by autosuggestion alone, he was still unconvinced by the test of pinching with his left hand, and he asked for a needle. I gave him one, properly sterilized. He pricked his right hand repeatedly, so that the blood flowed from each needle wound, before he could fully satisfy himself that he had actually learned to produce analgesia by autosuggestion. As a final illustration of the practical application of the principles of waking hypnosis, I removed by direct suggestion a headache of which the subject had complained at the beginning of the experiments. A further lesson is apparently needed by this subject, however, before he will be able to use autosuggestion effectively in practical ways; for he reported two days later that he had been able to produce contractures by autosuggestion, but not analgesia, when working alone.

The following description of a series of experiments in waking hypnosis carried out during a single class hour, on the first occasion of reference to hypnosis, shows what can be done in a short time. If more time is at one's disposal, variations and elaborations of such experiments are possible. At the end of one class hour I did a group experiment with the whole class, of fifteen students, in order to select the better subjects. Then, at the beginning of the next class period one of these better subjects volunteered for individual experiments. The subject selected was a man about thirty-five, never before hypnotized (except in the group experiment of the day before), and with a good history of physical and mental health. I first tested him to see if amnesia could be produced in the waking state. I readily produced amnesia for his name, with the suggestion that his hand would write it, while the amnesia still persisted. Pencil and paper were then provided, and his hand was concealed from his view, behind a screen. His hand immediately began to write his name. When the name was about half written the subject spoke up to say that he was sorry that the experiment did not seem to be working. After the name was completely written, and after amnesia for his name disappeared in five minutes as had been suggested, his writing was shown to him. The genuineness of his surprise and interest may be easily imagined. I next tested his normal ability in mental arithmetic, finding it fair. Then I made preliminary suggestions to him of the waking hypnotic type. I explained that I would give him a problem in multiplication, which he would solve subconsciously and the answer of which he would write automatically, with amnesia all the while both for what the problem was, and for the fact that a problem had been given to him. I then said, "Multiply 175 by 25," and I immediately thereafter caused amnesia for the figures and for the fact that a problem had been given. Then, testing his normal conscious attention to the class discussion, which I continued, by asking him miscellaneous questions, I allowed time for the subconscious computation of the problem and for the automatic writing of the answer. His hand wrote 4,325. The correct answer to the problem is 4,375. In tests given to the subject in the solution of similar problems before dissociation had been produced in waking hypnosis, similar errors had occasionally been made. I have in general not found subconscious computation either more or less accurate than the conscious solution of similar problems. I next caused by suggestion a sharp burning pain on the back of one hand, which I touched with a pencil. Amnesia for the cause of the pain was produced, and the pain remained constant for a minute, as had been suggested. I had produced analgesia in his right hand as one of the preliminary experiments. I have found it generally more difficult to cause pain by suggestion than to cause analgesia.

As a final experiment towards the close of the hour, I illustrated subconscious perception. I tested the subject's memory for details of the clothing of a man on the back seat of the classroom, a man, however, whom the subject had talked with earlier in the day. Finding him unable to recall any details whatever of the man's clothing, I tried the method of automatic writing without the use of hypnosis, and got an imperfect description. Then, through waking hypnosis I obtained a detailed and accurate description of the man's clothes. He persisted in saying that the man wore a white shirt with a dark stripe in it, in spite of suggestions from me that he would gradually come to recall it more accurately. To me the shirt seemed to be pure white; but after the termination of the experiment I discovered that there had originally been a dark stripe, which had faded out to such an extent that it was not visible to me at a distance of ten feet.

In conclusion I might add that I am interested in the employment of the ordinary type of sleeping hypnosis for some purposes, especially in therapeutic work. I am interested in the sort of psychoanalysis by means of hypnosis which Dr. Hadfield, in England, has called hypnoanalysis; and in attempting to remove phobias, for example, through hypnotic exploration of childhood, or later, amnesias, I have thus far preferred the sleeping type of hypnosis. However, I almost invariably begin the induction of sleeping hypnosis by the method of waking hypnosis described above; and I do not begin to suggest sleep until suggestions of contractures in the waking state have been effective. in this paper I have chosen to limit my discussion to waking hypnosis, and to emphasize its possibilities; for, if its possibilities were generally recognized, as is very obviously not the case, much of the present disinclination among psychologists to the use of hypnosis for experimental purposes would, I believe, entirely disappear.


The article above first appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, vol 18.


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