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Hypnosis as a Dissociative State

Ernest R. Hilgard of Stanford University described hypnosis as a dissociative state. The concept of dissociation—having one part of the mind "split off" and work independently from the rest—originated with Pierre Janet (Jan-AY) (1859-1947). Janet worked with multiple personality patients (see the later section on dissociative identity disorder. (Dissociative Identity Disorder is the modern name for multiple personality disorder). Multiple personality is perhaps the most spectacular example of dissociation.

How did Hilgard describe hypnosis? Why is hypnosis considered a dissociative state?

Hypnosis is much less dramatic than multiple personality, but it contains the essential ingredients of all dissociative states: a person does intelligent actions without normal conscious awareness and later has a hard time remembering it. For example, a hypnotized person can be told to feel a poke in the back when he or she hears a particular word. Later the person does not remember this suggestion, but when the special word is pronounced, the person jumps as if he or she just felt a poke in the back. Some portion of the mind or cognitive system, separated or dissociated from ordinary awareness, remembered and executed the instructions.


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