Posthypnotic Responding

The contemporary conception of posthypnotic responding, suggestions that that inform subjects to respond to a cue and perform certain acts after experiencing a hypnotic session, has shifted along with the cognitive-behavioral hypnotic perspective. Traditionally, posthypnotic responding has been viewed as automatic occurrence. State theorists base their conception of posthypnotic responding on two characteristics: The subject experiences a compulsion to perform the act and a lack of awareness that the act was performed (Erickson & Erickson, 1944). Conversely, cognitive-behaviorists conceive posthypnotic responding as mediated by situational cues and expectancies, therefore, can be considered a goal-directed, non-automatic happening.

Fischer (1954) became the first theorist to examine the notion of post-hypnotic responding from a goal-directed perspective. In his study, Fischer gave thirteen subjects (who had experienced a hypnosis session) the suggestion to scratch their ear every time they heard the word “psychology”. After the posthypnotic response was elicited, the hypnotist began speaking with a colleague to create the impression that the experiment had ended. During this time, the cue was used informally by the hypnotist. Next, the hypnotist restructured the subjects to suggest that the experiment was still in progress (Lynn, Rhue, & Weekes, 1989).

Results showed that all of the subjects responded to the cue when the hypnotist formally presented it. However, only four subjects responded to suggestion during the informal session. Finally, when the experiment was restructured and the subjects believed the experiment to be again in-progress, eleven out of the thirteen subjects responded to the cue. Furthermore, in 1959, St. Jean found that when the experimenter left the room to attend to what was described to the subjects as an “emergency situation”, almost all subjects did not respond posthypnotically to a prerecorded auditory stimulus eliciting the suggestion cue word (Lynn, Rhue, & Weekes, 1989).

These results suggest that subjects do not behave automatically and are not compelled to respond to the posthypnotic suggestion. In other words, when the cue was embedded in a context that the subjects did not associate with the experimental situation, subjects exhibited no posthypnotic responding. These studies provided the initial empirical evidence for the cognitive-behaviorists to suggest that post-hypnotic responding is an expectancy-mediated, goal-directed action (Spanos, Menary, et al., 1991).