Traditional conceptions have viewed hypnosis as a state related to sleep throughout history. They cite Asclepian dream healings as a historical root of their conception of hypnosis as a state related to sleep. In these dream healings, subjects sleep in a temple dedicated to Asclepos and during their sleep they are healed of disease and anxieties (Banyai & Hilgard, 1976). Contrary to the state conception, the contemporary perspectives view hypnotic responding as role enactments, rather than automatic happenings. Responding is viewed as context dependent and is determined by subjects willingness to adopt and understand the hypnotic role. From this perspective, hypnotic responding is contingent upon goal directed actions (Spanos & Chaves, 1989).
In 1950, T.R. Sarbin became the first theorist to explicitly reject the notion that hypnotic responding could be explained as an altered state of consciousness. While initially relatively little empirical research was conducted to support this perspective, T.X. Barber’s research in 1969 empirically demonstrated that nonhypnotic subjects showed changes in responsiveness to suggestion that were as large as the changes produced by hypnotic procedures. Barber (1969), a forerunner of the cognitive-behavioral perspective, also rejected the notion of an altered state of consciousness necessitating hypnotic procedures.
Traditional perspectives involve their subjects in hypnotic induction procedures in order to place them in a trance like state. Barber, being interested in this controversial area, performed empirical studies that focused on the area of consciousness within hypnosis. He randomly split his subjects into three groups. To one group he administered a hypnotic induction procedure, to another brief instructions asking them to try their best to respond to the forthcoming suggestions, and to the third (control group) instructions asking them to simply imagine whatever was suggested to them (Barber, 1969).
Results indicated that control subjects administered no special procedures frequently enacted the suggestions for age regression, amnesia, pain reduction, etc. Furthermore, the use of induction procedures produced only a small increment in responsiveness to suggestion. Barber described age regressed subjects as behaving in the ways that they believed children to behave. In other words, to the extent that their conceptions of child behavior were unrealistic, so were their subsequent responses to hypnotic age regression suggestibility.
Thus, the occurrence of such responding was shown to be tied most closely to subjects’ knowledge about specific suggestion rather than to effects produced by hypnotic procedures (Spanos & Chaves, 1989). While traditional theories have held fast to ideas surrounding altered states of consciousness, Barber’s study demonstrates that the behavior of nonhypnotic subjects (subjects not exposed to hypnotic induction procedures) provided empirical evidence that validated hypnotic responding as a goal-directed socially constructed action. In other words, this research concludes that despite external appearances, hypnotic responses are not particularly unusual and thus do not require particularly unusual states of consciousness (Barber, 1969).