From _The Arizona Skeptic_, vol. 5, no. 1, July/August 1991, pp. 6-7. Copyright (c) 1991 b
From _The Arizona Skeptic_, vol. 5, no. 1, July/August 1991,
pp. 6-7. Copyright (c) 1991 by the Phoenix Skeptics.
_They Call It Hypnosis_ by Robert A. Baker
1990, Prometheus Books, 313pp.
Reviewed by Jim Lippard
Robert Baker has written an entertaining and useful book for those
interested in the facts about hypnosis. While he argues for a
particular interpretation of hypnosis (the social-psychological
interpretation favored by researchers such as Spanos, Barber, and
others), he also presents numerous other interpretations which
have been offered. On the question of whether hypnosis is a
special state of consciousness or not, Baker comes down firmly
(and rightly, in my opinion) on the side of the non-state
This is a position which contradicts popular culture's view
of hypnosis, which is how Baker begins his book. He gives
examples from literature and the mass media of what hypnosis is,
and then shows how and why they are mistaken. Baker's book then
gives a history of the concept of hypnosis and a summary of
contemporary views. An entire chapter is devoted to hypnosis and
The book deals with nearly every major issue in hypnotic
behavior, though there were a number of subjects which I thought
could have been dealt with in more detail. For example, Baker
maintains that "hypnotized" individuals will not do anything they
would not ordinarily do. To explain such cases as experiments in
which subjects threw acid at the face of an experimenter (who was
actually shielded by glass), Baker maintains that in such cases
the subject knows that the experimenter is taking responsibility
for his behavior and assumes that nothing will really go wrong
(pp. 49, 154). This explanation, however, doesn't work for cases
such as two legal cases from Germany described in Leo Katz's book
_Bad Acts and Guilty Minds_ (1987, University of Chicago Press,
pp. 128-133). Katz describes cases where unethical hypnotists
induced patients to give them large sums of money, commit crimes,
and attempt murder and suicide. It is perhaps because of cases
like this that the Model Penal Code (MPC) lists "conduct during
hypnosis or resulting from hypnotic suggestion" as behaviors which
are "not voluntary acts." When I asked Baker about these cases,
he found the MPC definition unreasonable and stated that if the
descriptions in Katz's book were correct, the people were
effectively using the hypnosis as an excuse for behavior in which
they would have engaged anyway. (It is worth noting that the
alleged hypnosis-induced murder attempts were stopped by the
subject at the last minute rather than failing for chance reasons,
and that Katz himself (p. 133) warns that the accounts are
questionable for the same reason Baker gave me.) This
explanation, however, does not seem to be subject to scientific
Another story that appears to lend credence to the idea that
hypnosis can result in loss of voluntary control is found in
Richard Feynman's autobiography, _Surely You're Joking_, Mr.
Feynman (1985, W.W. Norton, pp. 53-55). Feynman describes
volunteering to be hypnotized by a stage hypnotist while a
graduate student at Princeton. He mentions doing things he
"couldn't normally do" (a statement Baker does a good job of
falsifying) and being given the suggestion to walk all the way
around the room rather than returning to his seat directly.
Feynman decided to try to resist the suggestion, without success.
The social-psychological interpretation would state that this is
simply due to social pressures, not to any magical power of
Baker maintains in his book that there are no differences in
the EEGs of hypnotized versus non-hypnotized individuals, however
David Spiegel of Stanford University, a hypnosis researcher,
maintains otherwise (e.g., Spiegel, Cutcomb, Ren, and Pribram
1985). (Nicholas Spanos, in his author's response to commentary
by Spiegel citing this research (1986, p. 492), argues that
Spiegel has misinterpreted his data given the nature of the
control subjects used.) It would have been nice to at least have
seen some acknowledgment of disagreement on this subject, but
Spiegel is not even mentioned.
Another peculiarity of Baker's position on hypnosis was
pointed out by Stanford hypnosis researcher Ernest Hilgard at the
session on hypnosis at the 1991 CSICOP conference in Berkeley,
California. Hilgard noted that Baker rejects the usefulness of
hypnotic susceptibility scales ("To my dismay I soon discovered
this sort of screening was of no value ... Neither I nor my fellow
researchers found the tests to be discriminatory. ... we found
that nearly all of our subjects scored almost exactly alike--near
the top--on the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scales, forms A,
B, and C," p. 35). Hilgard stated that Baker's position is
contrary to that of not only state theorists, but to non-state
theorists like Nicholas Spanos. (Indeed, Spanos presented data at
the same conference which made use of differential results on
hypnotic susceptibility scales.)
Finally, the book is somewhat marred by a large number of
typographical errors which should have been caught by an editor.
These include not only misspellings (like "Hildgard" for "Hilgard"
on p. 107), but disagreement in number between verb and subject
("Barber's own personal experiences with pain has led him to be
able to control it," p. 100) and other mistakes. I must say,
however, that despite these minor flaws, this remains one of the
best books on the subject of hypnosis I have read. I recommend it
Spanos, N. (1986) "Hypnotic Behavior: A Social-Psychological
Interpretation of Amnesia, Analgesia, and 'Trance Logic'."
_Behavioral and Brain Sciences_ 9:449-502.
Spiegel, D., Cutcomb, S., Ren, C., and Pribram, K. (1985)
"Hypnotic Hallucination Alters Evoked Potentials," _Journal
of Abnormal Psychology_ 94:249-255.
From _The Arizona Skeptic_ vol. 5, no. 2, September/October 1991,
p. 7. Copyright (c) 1991 by the Phoenix Skeptics.
Hypnosis and Free Will
By Jim Lippard
Most hypnosis researchers maintain that hypnotized persons cannot
be induced to do anything contrary to their own personal moral
code. At least one article in the scientific literature denies
this claim (Loyd W. Rowland, "Will Hypnotized Persons Try To Harm
Themselves or Others?", _Journal of Abnormal and Social
Psychology_ 34(1939):114-117, described in William Corliss' _The
Unfathomed Mind: A Handbook of Unusual Mental Phenomena_, pp. 120-
123). These experiments involved subjects sticking their hands
into a box containing a rattlesnake (which was actually fake) or
throwing acid into the face of an experimenter (who was behind an
unseen panel of glass). A possible rejoinder to this experiment
is the same as a criticism made of Stanley Milgram's "obedience to
authority" experiments, where subjects believed they were
assisting in a psychological experiment by giving painful electric
shocks to another test subject (actually a simulating assistant of
the experimenter). The response is to say that the experimental
situation was one in which the subject had complete trust in the
experimenter and put all responsibility into his hands. But is
there any reason to believe that this effect is limited to the
There are also, however, a number of reported cases of
criminal actions being performed by hypnotized persons. For
example, Leo Katz's book _Bad Acts and Guilty Minds_ (1987,
University of Chicago Press, pp. 128-133) describes legal cases
from Germany where unethical hypnotists induced patients to give
them large sums of money, commit crimes, and attempt murder and
suicide (the latter two failed). One response to this is to claim
that the defendants were simply using hypnosis as an excuse to
avoid prosecution, that they wouldn't have done what they did if
they had not already been predisposed to do so (this response,
like the one above to the experiments, is made by Robert A. Baker-
-see my review of his book _They Call It Hypnosis_, in _The
Arizona Skeptic_, July/August 1991).
The latest issue of the _Fortean Times_ (#58, July 1991)
reports the prosecution of a 57-year-old man, Nelson Nelson, who
sexually assaulted at least 113 women, preceded by hypnosis. In
Michael Goss' article, "The Eyes Have It," he reports that most of
the women assaulted by Nelson over a 25-year period did not report
it and were only discovered because Nelson kept a diary of his
exploits. The only source cited for this, however, is "daily
papers for 2 May 1991." No newspapers, no locations are cited
(the author lives in Essex, England). Goss also reports a
psychiatrist, Clifford Salter, whose medical license was revoked
in 1982 for abusing women under hypnosis. (Again, no sources, and
the details are too sketchy to know whether hypnosis really played
a significant role at all. After all, Salter was allegedly
From _The Arizona Skeptic_ vol. 5, no. 4, January/February 1992,
pp. 2-4. Copyright (c) 1992 by the Phoenix Skeptics.
Comments on Lippard's Review of _They Call It Hypnosis_
By Robert A. Baker
As I tried to make clear in my book, _They Call It Hypnosis_,
nearly everything about the concept of "hypnosis"* is
controversial. My primary motive in writing the book was to
provide the general public with a solid path of reliable
information through a veritable wilderness of claims and
counterclaims. Just about everything possible and impossible has
been claimed about hypnosis. For example, people claimed one
could hypnotize people behind their backs when they were unaware,
one could hypnotize people via ESP or over the telephone, people
can be kept in a trance for seven years or more, and so on and so
on. In the past, most practitioners of Mesmerism sincerely
believed that hypnosis gave people supernatural powers, i.e., made
them clairvoyant, provided them with ESP powers, enabled them to
communicate with the dead and discarnate spirits, etc. All such
occult claims have been shown again and again to be unfounded and
either delusionary or fraudulent or the result of human error.
[* In Baker's manuscript, every occurrence of this term in
all its forms appears in quotation marks, and he notes that he has
done so "to indicate that no such phenomenon exists." I have
omitted them throughout the rest of the article simply to conserve
With regard to several of the issues that Lippard felt should
have been dealt with in more detail let me add a few clarifying
remarks. First, with regard to the issue of controlling
hypnotized people or having them carry out behavior of any sort or
criminal acts against their will--time and again carefully
controlled experiments have shown that the so-called "hypnotized"
individual will not do anything he or she would not do when they
are wide awake. Every ardent young male in the country wishes
this weren't true. Think about it. All one would have to do is
learn hypnosis and then he could have his way with all the girls.
Fortunately for the ladies, this can't be done. No young lady is
going to surrender under hypnosis any more readily than she would
surrender if she were wide awake. If she wants to surrender then
she can, of course, use hypnosis as a handy rationalization. The
most convincing proof, however, of the fact that people who are
hypnotized are not robots or automatons under the control of the
hypnotist comes from the efforts of the CIA, who carried out over
a decade of research to determine if it was possible to create a
"Manchurian Candidate"--i.e., to use hypnosis to program a man to
turn, after the appropriate signal, into a mindless robot killer.
All of the CIA's efforts proved to be impossible and, as reported
by Thomas (1989), some of their efforts resembled a Marx Brothers'
comedy. Hoping to create a "sleeper-killer" who would be used to
assassinate Castro, the CIA recruited several Cuban refugees from
Miami and selected one who appeared to the hypnotic experts as the
"ideal" subject. After days of careful programming and implanting
the secret word in the subject's unconscious while under hypnosis,
the day of the final test arrived.
According to the program, when the Cuban heard the key word
in the presence of Fidel this would cause him to draw his weapon
and shoot the dictator. To test the training the hypnotist
ordered the Cuban to imagine he was at Castro's side. Then the
hypnotist uttered the key word. Nothing happened. The hypnotist
tried again and again nothing happened. Finally the hypnotist
gave up and brought the Cuban out of the trance. Once more the
hypnotist uttered the secret word--"cigar." This time the man
looked at the hypnotist blankly and said, "No thanks, I don't
smoke." Unfortunately, despite the CIA fiasco, the legend of the
Manchurian Candidate refuses to die.
As for the matter of Spiegel's findings of differences in the
brain waves of hypnotized and non-hypnotized individuals (1985),
to my knowledge these results have not been replicated since.
Moreover, David Spiegel and his father are strong proponents of
the "state" theory and both support the notion that
hypnotizability is a hereditary trait and that an S's ability to
roll his eyeballs is a clue to his hypnotizability. Spiegel has
also argued that specific and unique EEG changes accompany the
personality shifts in MPD** patients and suggests that the
secondary personalities in MPD cases are biologically independent
of each other as well as psychologically independent. It should
be remembered, however, that no EEG differences could be found
between the three personalities in _The Three Faces of Eve_
(Thigpen and Cleckley, 1957). Of even greater interest is the
curious fact that EEG changes can be produced by people
_simulating_ multiple personality (Coons, Milstein, and Marley,
1982) which, again, suggests the social-cognitive role-playing
nature of many MPD disorders as well as so-called "hypnosis."
Most experts in the EEG area have concluded that no differences in
EEG patterns can be found between the hypnotized and unhypnotized
states. In the words of Negley-Parker (1986), "There is the
possibility that differences between the brain waves of the
hypnotized and 'awake' subjects are too subtle to be picked up by
the relatively crude measurements of the electroencephalogram, but
the available evidence indicates that brain waves are practically
the same in hypnosis or out of it." (p. 9)
[** Multiple Personality Disorder. --Editor]
This conclusion is also shared by Paul Davies (1988) in his
review of the available evidence at the time. We should remember,
however, that hypnosis does correlate with relaxation and that
relaxation _per se_ can produce a number of marked physiological
and EEG changes. We must never forget that the EEG is still--even
today--a very crude and unreliable tool. Further, we must also
remember that experimenter bias and expectation is such that we
usually pretty much find whatever it is we are looking for. Until
additional replications of Spiegel's work appear, I remain quite
skeptical and am certainly inclined to agree with Spanos on his
point that Spiegel has misread his data.
As for the issue of hypnotic susceptibility tests, I am not
alone in finding them of limited usefulness and with little or no
predictive validity, i.e., they do not predict who is and who is
not hypnotizable. Some individuals who have scored very low on
the Stanford scales proved to be some of my best hypnotic
subjects. What the Stanford and other scales measure is not
hypnotizability per se but compliance and suggestibility, e.g.,
raising and lowering of an arm, eye closure, swaying, etc., which
are components of but not the total of the social situation we
call hypnosis. Response expectancies play a major and important
role in the hypnotic situation as well as motivation. No matter
what their score on a hypnotic susceptibility scale, people who
have a strong need to be hypnotized in order to gain some end such
as losing weight or stopping smoking will prove to be ideal
subjects in the clinic. Because most clinical patients can easily
be hypnotized in much less time than one could administer any of
the susceptibility tests, few clinicians bother with them (Cohen,
1986). Moreover, even if the tests showed the client was at the
bottom of the scale, the clinician would still be forced to find
some way of successfully hypnotizing his patient. If one method
doesn't work, the skilled clinician uses another technique. And,
as all of them know, there are few--if any--unhypnotizable
clients. If you want to use a test, one of the simplest as well
as quickest of all and one that has as much predictive validity as
any of the standard ones is this: approach the client, smile, and
stick out your hand. If the client takes it and shakes it, he or
she is socially conditioned to respond to your subsequent request
to relax, close their eyes, and focus on the internal imagery your
suggestions provide. This is all hypnosis is and I have yet to
meet the human being incapable of doing this. In other words:
everyone is hypnotizable if they wish to be and no one is
hypnotizable if they don't want to be. This is an easily
observable fact, despite what any and all experts may claim.
Finally, in Cohen's words,
Although there may be some positive correlation between
hypnotizability and certain therapeutic gains, the reverse does
not hold true. That is, there is no indication that low
hypnotizability means that a given individual will not respond
therapeutically. In my opinion, this is the major reason that
most clinicians do not use the tests...I know of no clinician,
including those who have developed or espoused tests, who would
advocate withholding hypnosis from a patient simply because he or
she scored low on a hypnotizability test. (p. 97)
Baker, Robert A. (1990) _They Call It Hypnosis_. Buffalo, N.Y.:
Cohen, Sheldon (1986) "Clinical Usefulness of Hypnotizability
Tests," in _Hypnosis: Questions and Answers_, ed. by Bernie
Zilbergeld, M.G. Edelstein, and Daniel Araoz, N.Y.: W.W. Norton
Coons, Philip, Milstein, Victor, and Marley, Carma (1982) "EEG
Studies of Two Multiple Personalities and a Control," _Arch. Gen.
Davies, Paul (1988) "Some Considerations of the Physiological
Effect of Hypnosis," in _Hypnosis: Current Clinical, Experimental,
and Forensic Practices_, ed. by M. Heap, London: Croom Helm.
Lippard, Jim (1991) "Book Review: _They Call It Hypnosis_ by
Robert A. Baker," _The Arizona Skeptic_ 5(July/August):6-7.
Negley-Parker, Esther (1986) "Physiological Correlates and Effects
of Hypnosis," in _Hypnosis: Questions and Answers_, op. cit.
Spanos, Nicholas (1986) "Hypnotic Behavior: A Social Psychological
Interpretation of Amnesia, Analgesia, and 'Trance Logic',"
_Behavioral and Brain Sciences_ 9:449-502.
Spiegel, David, Cutcomb, S., Ren, C., and Pribram, K. (1985)
"Hypnotic Hallucination Alters Evoked Potentials," _Journal of
Abnormal Psychology_ 94:249-255.
Thigpen, Corbett H. and Cleckley, Hervey M. (1957) _The Three
Faces of Eve_. N.Y.: McGraw-Hill.
Thomas, Gordon (1989) _Journey into Madness: The True Story of
Secret CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse_. N.Y.: Bantam Books.
_Robert A. Baker has taught psychology at Stanford, MIT, and the
University of Kentucky. He is the author of_ They Call It
Hypnosis _and (forthcoming)_ Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions
from Within_, both from Prometheus Books._
_The Arizona Skeptic_ may be obtained via subscription for $12.50/year
from the Phoenix Skeptics, P.O. Box 62792, Phoenix, AZ 85082-2792.
It may also be obtained free of charge via download from GEnie's
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by email from email@example.com. Issues available in this
format are vol. 5 nos. 1-6 and vol. 6 nos. 1-3. Also available is
an index to all issues (vols. 1-6), by author and by subject (about
62K, most of which is the subject index).
The following is an (incomplete) bibliography from a dormant work-
in-progress titled "Hypnosis, Voluntary Acts, and the Law."
Baker, Robert A. (1990) They Call It Hypnosis. Prometheus Books.
Barber, Theodore X. (1961) "Antisocial and Criminal Acts Induced
by Hypnosis: A Review of Experimental and Clinical Findings,"
Archives of General Psychiatry 5:301-312.
Barber, Theodore X., Spanos, Nicholas P., and Chaves, John F.
(1974) Hypnosis, Imagination, and Human Potentialities.
Coe, XX (1977) "XXX," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Feynman, Richard (1985) "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!":
Adventures of a Curious Character. W.W. Norton.
Goss, Michael (1991) "The Eyes Have It," Fortean Times
Hilgard, Ernest R. (1977) Divided Consciousness: Multiple Controls
in Human Thought and Action. John Wiley & Sons.
Hoencamp, Erik (1990) "Sexual Abuse and the Abuse of Hypnosis in
the Therapeutic Relationship," International Journal of
Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 38:283-297.
Katz, Leo (1987) Bad Acts and Guilty Minds: Conundrums of the
Criminal Law. University of Chicago Press.
Levitt, Eugene E. (1977) "Research Strategies in Evaluating the
Coercive Power of Hypnosis," Annals of the New York Academy
of Sciences 296:86-89.
Levitt, Eugene E., Baker, Elgan L., Jr., and Fish, Ronald C.
(1990) "Some Conditions of Compliance and Resistance Among
Hypnotic Subjects," American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis
Marks, John (1979) The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate": The
CIA and Mind Control. Times Books.
Milgram, Stanley (1974) Obedience to Authority: An Experimental
View. Harper & Row.
Orne, Martin T. (1972) "Can A Hypnotized Subject Be Compelled To
Carry Out Otherwise Unacceptable Behavior? A Discussion,"
International Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 20:101-117.
Orne, Martin T. and Evans, Frederick J. (1965) "Social Control in
the Psychological Experiment: Antisocial Behavior and
Hypnosis," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Rowland, Loyd W. (1939) "Will Hypnotized Persons Try To Harm
Themselves or Others?" Journal of Abnormal and Social
Spanos, Nicholas P. (1986a) "Hypnotic Behavior: A Social-
Psychological Interpretation of Amnesia, Analgesia, and
'Trance Logic'," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 9:449-502.
--- (1986b) "Hypnosis, Nonvolitional Responding and Multiple
Personality: A Social Psychological Analysis," in Brendan A.
Maher and Winifred B. Maher (editors), Progress in
Experimental Personality Research, vol. 14, pp. 1-62.
Thomas, Gordon (1989) Journey into Madness: The True Story of
Secret CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse. N.Y.: Bantam.
Wells, P.C. (1954) "Antisocial Uses of Hypnosis," in L.M. LeCron
(editor), Experimental Hypnosis, pp. 376-409. Macmillan.
Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank