Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

Hypnotic behavior: A social-psychological interpretation of amnesia, analgesia, and “trance logic”

Nicholas P. Spanosa1

a1 Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 586


This paper examines research on three hypnotic phenomena: suggested amnesia, suggested analgesia, and “trance logic.” For each case a social-psychological interpretation of hypnotic behavior as a voluntary response strategy is compared with the traditional special-process view that “good” hypnotic subjects have lost conscious control over suggestion-induced behavior. I conclude that it is inaccurate to describe hypnotically amnesic subjects as unable to recall the material they have been instructed to forget. Although amnesics present themselves as unable to remember, they in fact retain control over retrieval processes and accommodate their recall (or lack of it) to the social demands of the test situation. Hypnotic suggestions of analgesia do not produce a dissociation of pain from phenomenal awareness. Nonhypnotic suggestions of analgesia and distractor tasks that deflect attention from the'noxious stimuli are as effective as hypnotic suggestions in producing reductions in reported pain. Moreover, when appropriately motivated, subjects low in hypnotic suggestibility report pain reductions as large as those reported by highly suggestible hypnotically analgesic subjects. Finally, the data fail to support the view that a tolerance for logical incongruity (i.e., trance logic) uniquely characterizes hypnotic responding. So-called trance-logic-governed responding appears to reflect the attempts of “good” subjects to meet implicit demands to report accurately what they experience.