Another aspect of the hypnotic domain between which state theories and cognitive-behavioral conceptions of hypnosis differ is the notion of hypnotic nonvolition. Since the dawn of thinking about hypnotic phenomena, the involuntary aspect of hypnosis has been associated with everything from Mesmer’s animal magnetism fluids to most generally the conception of the passive hypnotic subject being hypnotized by the movement of a watch. However, debates over signs of willpower exhibited by hypnotic subjects have become recent commonplace. State theories highlight the helplessness of the subject while fundamental to the cognitive-behavioral viewpoint is the subject’s control over suggested responses (Coe, 1989).
Earliest conceptualizations of hypnotic nonvolition were a product of Braid’s theorizing. In 1843, Braid declared hypnotic procedures a result of involuntariness based on his observation that subjects responded as suggested by the hypnotist despite being “asleep”, as the state theorists claimed. Thus, according to Braid, asleep subjects were incapable of exercising choice and initiating actions (Gorassini, 1987). Moreover, in 1880, Bernheim concluded that hypnosis is “the unconscious transformation of the thought into movement, unknown to will” (Bernheim, 1900). More contemporarily, Arnold (1946) described nonvolition as a relinquishing of the control of one’s imagination process. In accordance with state theories, Arnold supported automatic ideomotor action with an inability to resist suggested behavior.
Contemporary theories reacted to the state conception of hypnotic nonvoltion by arguing that hypnotic behavior remains within the subjects’ realm of control. Their volition position split from the state theorists beginning in the early 1940’s. Ironically, White (1941), the theorist who most influenced the cognitive-behavioral camp, initially supported state theories and conceived of hypnosis as an altered state. However, he began to conceptualize hypnosis as a goal-directed process that was cognitively understood by the subject. His views of hypnotic nonvolition stemmed from two basic tenets. White claimed that subjects can successfully resist responding to suggestions that are in contrast to their “own deeper tendencies”. Also, he noted that hypnotized individuals often elaborate on and improvise hypnotic suggestions. Thus, White concluded that the notion of subjects eliciting spontaneous additions supports the idea that volition is involved in hypnotic procedure.