Interpersonal perceptions in hypnosis : an interactional perspective

Whitehead, Susanne. (2004). Interpersonal perceptions in hypnosis : an interactional perspective PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Whitehead, Susanne.
Thesis Title Interpersonal perceptions in hypnosis : an interactional perspective
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2004
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Prof Patricia Noller
Prof Peter W. Sheehan
Total pages 374
Collection year 2004
Language eng
Subjects L
380109 Psychological Methodology, Design and Analysis
780108 Behavioural and cognitive sciences
Formatted abstract

Relational processes in hypnosis were investigated via an in-depth phenomenological study. Focus was placed upon the neglected topics of interpersonal perception in the hypnosis interaction, and the behavior and experience of the hypnotist. The methodology used was the Experiential Analysis Technique (EAT; Sheehan, McConkey, & Cross, 1978), a methodology originally developed to examine the experiences of susceptible subjects. Two modifications of the EAT were employed. One version involved a new modification where both hypnotist and participant1 took part together in the EAT session. This modification extended the work of others (Varga, Banyai, & Gosi-Greguss, 1994) by introducing a method in which the data collection technique is truly interactional in nature. The second version involved the EAT with the hypnotist alone as per the modification introduced by others to investigate hypnotists' experiences (e.g., Banyai, Gosi-Greguss, Vago, Varga, & Horvath, 1990). 

The program of work extended earlier investigations by focusing systematically on major potential factors influencing the hypnotist-participant interaction (i.e., participant susceptibility and hypnotist style). The design involved (a) comparison groups of participants who were preselected for their high or low hypnotic ability, and (b) large numbers of participants (to allow for relevant interindividual differences to emerge). Compared to earlier work, the design also allowed for examination of hypnotist style with a larger number of participants per hypnotist, and across two different EAT conditions. Two hypnotists and 124 undergraduate psychology student-participants (63 susceptible and 61 nonsusceptible) were employed in a 2 x 2 x 2 (Hypnotist Style x EAT Type x Participant Susceptibility) design. Consistent with a phenomenological approach, the program of work emphasized qualitative data. 

Both the individual (participant, hypnotist) and dyadic levels of experience were examined. At the dyadic level of experience, two important intersubjective phenomena were addressed. Investigation of the first phenomenon, sympathetic congruence (a sameness or harmony in thoughts, feelings, and associations experienced by each dyad member) extended work by others (see Banyai, 1991) by examining experiential synchrony in methodologically new ways. The second, and related, phenomenon,  empathic accuracy (the accurate perception by one dyad member of the other member's thoughts and feelings), is a construct adopted from the broader interpersonal relationships literature (see Ickes, 1997), but not used previously in the hypnosis context. 

Results suggest that the experiences of susceptible participants involve complex, multilevel relational processes that are largely intrapsychically-based. Further, the extent to which susceptible participants' relational experiences may involve an internalized representation of the hypnotist, as opposed to the person of the actual hypnotist, appears to have been underestimated in the literature. Evidence for the impact of hypnotist style on participants' experiences was equivocal. 

Results concerning hypnotists further add to previous evidence (e.g., Banyai, 1991, 1998; Varga, Banyai, & Gosi-Greguss, 1999) of the active, sentient nature of their involvement. However, findings here extend that work by highlighting the particular importance of hypnotists' own agendas and expectations, and their interpersonal perceptions of participants (especially their perceptions of participant susceptibility) as factors that shape hypnotists' interactions with participants. Results also draw attention to the difficulties inherent in the hypnotist role, and the need to take account of the impact of those difficulties upon hypnotist behavior and experience. Findings support a view of hypnotist style as a multidimensional construct, rather than a taxonomic one as suggested by others (see Banyai, 1991, 1998). 

Findings regarding sympathetic congruence and empathic accuracy suggest that they are not an integral feature of the hypnosis interaction, thereby casting doubt upon theoretical perspectives that propose that there is a core mutuality to hypnotic experience (e.g.. Baker, 2000; Banyai, 1991, 1998). Results showed that the preoccupations of participants and hypnotists were fundamentally different. Methodologically, comparisons of the two EAT conditions highlighted the complex nature of research into interpersonal dynamics in hypnosis, particularly when attempting study of the interacting dyad, rather than individual dyad members. 

Overall, findings indicate that the literature has underestimated the complexity, subtlety and unpredictability of relational factors in hypnosis. It is argued that there is a need for the field to (a) adopt a broad interactionist perspective upon the hypnosis interaction (i.e., a persons-in-context perspective), and (b) embrace developments in  theory and research from broader fields of psychology that have, in recent years, converged upon the study of relationships. The particular relevance of the findings to the clinical and experimental settings is also highlighted.  

1 In the present program of work, the term "participant" is used instead of the traditional "subject", except when referring to earlier work. Such usage is in accordance with the PubHcation Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001), and is congruent with the theoretical approach adopted in this program of work. 

Keyword Hypnotism
Hallucinations and illusions

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:27:39 EST