Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Berkeley, California, October 5, 2013.
Like Rainville, Prof. Barnier and her
group use hypnosis to manipulate these two factors
independently, proceeding one after another through a list
of the most common delusions.
Her example of mirror
self-identification is of particular interest, on two
All of this is in line with the
Australian tradition of hypnosis research, beginning with
J.P. Sutcliffe's idea that the hypnotic subject is
essentially deluded about reality -- he possesses an
incorrect belief about himself or the world, firmly held
despite evidence to the contrary.
As I said, Prof. Barnier's group has
been studying all sorts of different delusions. Dr.
Cox has focused on delusions of alien control
("Disrupting Behavior and Self-Monitoring in a Hypnotic
Analogue of Alien Control"). Here in America, we had a
dramatic example of this delusion in the recent shootings at
the Washington Naval Yard, where the perpetrator -- let's
not call him just a "suspect" believed that he was being
influenced by extra-low-frequency (ELF) radio waves.
While the research on mirror
self-misidentification manipulated only the first of
Coltheart's two factors, Dr. Cox's research attacks both of
There also appear to be two sources of
Either way, theory generally holds that
once a process is automatized it stays that way. But
Amir Raz has reported that he can undo a cardinal example of
automaticity, the Stroop interference effect, by means of
hypnotic suggestions for agnosia. If he's right, then
it's possible to "unring the bell", and de-automatize
an automatic process. That would be a new empirical
fact for automaticity theory to contend with.
Dr. Polito's work has focused on the
sense of agency, or the experience of conscious control -- a
topic that has garnered quite a bit of attention fro
philosophers and other cognitive scientists lately.
Some theorists, like the late Dan Wegner, claim that
conscious control is simply an illusion -- we don't have it,
because everything we do we do automatically and
unconsciously. Wegner and many other advocates for
this position base their arguments on the famous Libet
experiment, which purported to show brain signature of an
unconscious initiation of a response before the subject is
consciously aware of it. The Libet experiment has
gotten a great deal of press, but I am here to tell you that
it is entirely unwarranted. Research by Jeff Miller, a
New Zealand psychologist, shows that Libet's results were
wholly an artifact of his method. Maybe we don't have
free will, but the Libet experiment doesn't prove it, not by
a long shot.
As is characteristic of the Barnier lab,
Dr. Polito's work has employed a number of different
paradigms. One set of experiments employs Wegner's
"Clever Hands" paradigm (Wegner loved cute titles, in this
case a variant on "Clever Hans") in which subjects are asked
to respond randomly to easy and difficult trivia
questions. Wegner found that subjects could respond
randomly to difficult questions, but not easy ones, because
the answers to easy questions occurred automatically to
subjects. Maybe so, but Dr. Polito is able to get
subjects to respond randomly even to easy questions by means
of hypnotic suggestion -- which means that he can
de-automatize processing in that domain, too.
I'm particularly fond of Dr. Polito's
work on self-tickling, which is kind of an oxymoron.
You can make yourself feel very good, but you can't tickle
yourself (sort of the way a sandwich always tastes better
when it's made by someone else -- but not really). The
traditional explanation invokes a kind of Gibsonian process,
in which egomotion feedback from the skeletal musculature
corrects tactile sensations arriving at somatosensory
cortex, dampening the tickles that the subject would feel
otherwise. Again, most previous attempts to get people
to tickle themselves have involved a complex apparatus that
are, again, rife with demand characteristics and, perhaps
because of that, and don't succeed very well. Dr.
Polito employs a much more direct approach, and voila!
People can tickle themselves after all, provided that they
don't know they're doing it.
Even if we didn't have free will --
though of course we do! -- we'd still have this sense of
agency, and Dr. Polito has taken his psychometric skills,
honed by his hypnosis research, and put them to good use in
developing his Sense of Agency Rating Scale (SOARS).
There's been a lot of interest in the experience of
involuntariness in response to hypnotic suggestions, leading
a number of us to develop scales for capturing this
experience in hypnosis. But Dr. Polito has produced
something much more general -- an instrument that can tap
the sense of agency in almost any domain of behavior.
Interestingly, Dr. Polito finds that the
sense of agency is not unidimensional, but has two
underlying factors -- involuntariness and effortlessness,
that can be dissociated in hypnosis. I'm pretty
convinced, but I worry that you get out of factor analysis
pretty much what you put into it. Dr. Polito culled
his scale items from philosophical discussions of the sense
of agency, and this vocabulary might have been unduly
influenced by the intuitive theories of the philosophers
themselves. He might get very different items, and
very different factors, by taking a leaf from the work of
Bertram Malle, on attribution theory. Social
psychologists have long embraced a distinction between
personal and situational attributions, based largely on a
misreading of Fritz Heider's work (or so Malle argues),
leading to the "discovery" of such things as the
"Fundamental Attribution Error" and the "Actor-Observer
Difference" in causal attributions. But when Malle
performed a content analysis of ordinary people's causal
attributions, he found that these "basic" attributional
phenomena took on quite a different shape. Maybe if we
looked at the sense of agency as experienced by naive
observers, without much by way of philosophical training,
we'd get a quite different structure. It's a
hypothesis worth entertaining, anyway.
By suggesting that hypnosis might serve
as a neural model, by creating "virtual lesions"
that impair the sense of agency, he takes us back to the
very beginnings of hypnosis as a laboratory model.
These were at the Salpetriere, where Charcot, who after all
was a neurologist by training, noticed the parallels between
the symptoms of hysteria and those of certain neurological
conditions, and between the symptoms of hysteria and the
phenomena of hypnosis, and suggested that both hysteria and
hypnosis involved "functional" rather than "organic" lesions
affecting brain function.
Given the high level of theoretical
interest in automaticity and conscious control, I suspect
that one or another version of the SOARS will be picked up
by researchers working in a wide variety of domains, not
just hypnosis. This is just another example of how
hypnosis can contribute to other kinds of research, and
offers another perspective on the instrumental use of
I thank the presenters for a collection
of vary stimulating papers, and I thank the audience for
your attention to them.