Intro to Psych Textbooks and Hypnosis

I have taught Introduction to Psychology to students at both the high school and college levels for the last eight and a half years. The curriculum is broad, and incorporating all of the high school national standards in either realm (the college level standards are, to the best of my recollection, in development and will likely have many similarities) is a difficult task. It is no wonder when colleagues tell me that hypnosis gets little attention (if any) in their lessons. The reasons range from having little time to not knowing enough about it to lecture it.

I spend considerable time on hypnosis – partly because I make it a point to link it to other concepts that have been or will be taught (e.g., hypnosis and dissociation, the correlations between the Big Five and hypnotic susceptibility, etc.). This contrasts considerably from the amount of coverage dedicated to it in textbooks – ranging from 2-3 pages to a scant paragraph in one textbook I use for a particular course.  Given the incredible amount of content to be covered in the typical Psych 100 course, I wouldn’t and couldn’t expect any textbook to cover nearly every realm associated with hypnosis, or anything close to it, but I would hope that a good and informative view of hypnosis is presented.

I certainly do not contend that any textbook promotes a negative perspective on hypnosis, but I do think few focus on exactly the right things. Several books, for example, give special emphasis on the state/non-state debate. It is not to say that the theoretical discussion is unimportant, but in a time when theorists are seeking to reconcile their differences and promote the use of hypnosis, I believe the modern Zeitgeist should center on what hypnosis can do, and not so much on what it is or is not.

The current focus can lead to a misunderstanding of the issue altogether. I give quizzes to check students’ comprehension of assigned readings. A question centered on whether most socio-cognitive theorists believe that hypnotic phenomena are deliberately fabricated actions. While the answer was false, a very bright student pointed out how a not-far-fetched interpretation of the respective section of the reading could lead one believe the answer to be true. It is an easy concept to misunderstand. Theodore X. Barber was called a hypnosis critic, though he was certainly a major proponent of it as well as being adept at experiencing its phenomena. Baker’s They Call It Hypnosis may lead a reader to believe that there is not value in what hypnotists do until one gets to the final pages. Some may confuse Kreskin’s view of hypnosis (being nothing more than suggestion) as deliberate and volitional fakery of subjects going along with the demands of the hypnotist. I think part of this confusion lies in the fact that the suggestion of, say, what a group of people could go for the evening is not the same as the suggestion of experiencing a hallucination or delusion.

To be fair, some, if not most, texts are very explicit in stating that hypnosis (or at least the phenomena associated with hypnosis) is a real thing. Nevertheless, to focus on the theories undermines learning about a process that can help many people and bring understanding to numerous mental processes. The 2005 Free Response Question of the Advanced Placement Psychology Exam asked test takers to discuss the “controversies” behind explanations of hypnosis.

I believe a concerted and focused effort should be undertaken with the goal of presenting hypnosis in a clear and concise way that promotes to students, in roughly this order, the effective uses of hypnosis, dispels its myths, and provides possible explanations of how it works. Some textbooks do this well, but a common “curriculum” may serve students of psychology well.

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