Hypnosis scripts: hypnotic suggestions used in research

The precise wording of suggestions used in hypnosis research can have a dramatic effect on participant's responses. Here are some hypnotic, post-hypnotic, and imaginative suggestions from notable studies.

Pain

Kiernan et al (1995) / Rainville et al (1997)

These suggestions originally used by Kiernan et al (1995) were also used in Rainville et al's (1997) PET study of pain processing. Rainville used hypnosis as a tool to identify regions of the brain sensitive to pain unpleasantness independent of the strength of the pain.

(1) Physical relaxation:

"the feeling of every muscle in that part of your body just loosening up, and just letting go, and lying fiat like a limp rubber band, very deeply relaxed."

(2) Mental comfort and restfulness:

"and although you're aware of my voice, you can be even more aware of the wave of comfort embracing your awareness, as you continue enjoying the restfulness of not having to do anything in particular right now."

(3) Normal sensation with continued comfort:

"although you continue to experience normal sensation, your experience will seem surprisingly more pleasant, surprisingly more comfortable, surprisingly more restful than you might expect."

(4) Reinterpretation of sensation:

"when you feel the stimulus, you can be mindful of its intensity, mindful of its quality, reminded there is no other meaning, but to be reminded of how comfortably relaxed you can feel. Almost as if, when you feel the onset of the stimulus, you can feel an onset of relaxation quickly spreading into your leg and all through your experience."

(5) Normalization of analgesia:

"and isn't it interesting, to notice, as I'm sure you have before, that as you listen to me now, you might have forgotten all about your right hand ... and yet now you can feel it ... you have forgotten to feel your feet against the table ... and now you can feel them. We've all had tremendous experience in developing anesthesias in all parts of our bodies."

(6) Dissociation and dissociative imagery:

"your whole body can be separate from your immediate experience. Almost as if, you are just far away, and you are just, all mind, floating freely ... almost as if you could just lift right out of your body, and just float like a cloud in a beautiful blue sky."

(7) Lowering the intensity of the stimulus:

"as the stimulus dial is turned up, you can just turn down the dial of your own sensation."

  (8) Numbing and analgesia:

"maybe you imagine a curious tingling sensation you might have experienced with novocaine. You might enjoy letting that ankle become more and more numb."

Derbyshire, Whalley & Oakley (2009)

This study took place in an fMRI scanner where it is not possible to deliver verbal suggestions over the noise of the machine. Instead, the investigators linked verbal suggestions to a physical tap on the foot. Participants rehearsed hypnotic analgesia using imagery of a pain dial and during the study suggestions were 'triggered' by a series of light taps.

Pain dial

"I’d like you to bring that dial to mind and in this block we’re going to move that dial up and down.

When I tap you once on the foot like this (1 TAP) I’d like you to allow the dial to go down as low as it will go, and then hold it there in that position.

When I tap you twice on the foot like this (2 TAPS) I’d like you to allow the dial to go to its medium position, and then hold it in that position.

When I tap you three times on the foot like this (3 TAPS) I’d like you to allow the dial to go to go as high as it will go, and then hold it in that position."

Attention

Raz et al (2002)

In this study Raz and colleagues delivered the following as a post hypnotic suggestion to affect participant's abilities to read. The effects were measured by examining participant performance on the Stroop task. See the page on Attention/Conflict for more information. The stimuli looked similar to those below:

Congruent - RED BLUE  GREEN  YELLOW

Incongruent - RED BLUE GREEN YELLOW

Neutral - LOT SHIP KNIFE FLOWER

"Very soon you will be playing the computer game. When I clap my hands, meaningless symbols will appear in the middle of the screen. They will feel like characters of a foreign language that you do not know, and you will not attempt to attribute any meaning to them. This gibberish will be printed in one of four ink colors: red, blue, green, or yellow. Although you will only be able to attend to the symbols ink color, you will look straight at the scrambled signs and crisply see all of them. Your job is to quickly and accurately depress the key that corresponds to the ink color shown. You will find that you can play this game easily and effortlessly." 

Clinical symptom model

Barnier et al (2008)

In this study Barnier and colleagues were trying to develop a hypnotically induced analogue of some specific types of delusion.

"In a moment, I am going to ask you to open your eyes, and when you do, I would like you to lean forward and to look to your left. When you look to your left, you will see a mirror. The mirror you will see will have properties of a normal mirror, with one major difference. The person you see in the mirror will not be you, it will be a stranger. When you open your eyes and turn your head to your left, whilst remaining as deeply relaxed and comfortably hypnotised as you feel now, you will see a stranger reflected in the mirror. I would now like you to slowly open your eyes, turn your head to the left, and look into the mirror."

"In a moment, I am going to ask you to open your eyes, and when you do, I would like you to lean forward and to look to your left. When you look to your left, you will see a window through to another room. When you open your eyes and turn your head to your left, whilst remaining as deeply relaxed and comfortably hypnotised as you feel now, you will be able to see what is on the other side of the window. I would now like you to slowly open your eyes, turn your head to the left, and look through the window."

"In a moment, I am going to ask you to open your eyes, and when you do, I would like you to lean forward and to look to your left. When you look to your left, you will see a window and through the window, you will see a stranger. When you open your eyes and turn your head to your left, whilst remaining as deeply relaxed and comfortably hypnotised as you feel now, you will be able to see the stranger on the other side of the window. I would now like you to slowly open your eyes, turn your head to the left, and look through the window."

Colour processing

Kosslyn et al (2000)

In this study Kosslyn et al (2000) used hypnotic suggestions to alter how participants saw a colour Mondrian picture. Suggestions were given to add colour to a greyscale picture, or to remove the colour from a colour picture.

Mondrian image used in Kosslyn et al (2000) study

"In the hypnosis condition before scanning began, the subjects were asked to alter actively the stimulus, to drain or add color while focusing on the altered stimuli. They were asked to alter their perception of the stimuli as much as possible and to let the investigators know when they had successfully added or drained the color. The no-hypnosis condition was identical to the hypnosis condition except that when subjects were asked to perceive the gray-scale stimulus in color or vice versa, they were asked to try to “remember and visualize” the stimulus in its other form. Thus, the no-hypnosis condition served as a mental imagery control for the hypnosis condition. The wording used here was chosen to lead subjects to attend to the visible stimulus and to alter it, rather than to substitute a complete hallucination for the observed pattern. The instructions for this condition were worded to avoid leading the subjects, who were all highly hypnotizable, to fall into a hypnotic state during performance of the task."

Context: Past Life Regression

Spanos et al (1991)

This example is not strictly about a hypnotic suggestion or script, but is about the context in which the suggestion is delivered. Spanos and colleagues (1991) investigated a suggestion for 'past life regression'. They suggested to hypnotised participants that they were "regressing in time, beyond their birth and into a new dimension". The suggestion ended with "You are now in a different life, living in another life that you have live before in another time. You are now reliving that other life that you lived once before in a different time".

What was interesting about this study was that before the suggestion the investigators altered what participants were told about past-life regression. In one condition participants were told:

"People undergoing past-life regression are frequently surprised to discover that in their past life they were a member of the opposite sex. This is by no means unusual, in fact it is quite common. . . . Past-life experiences do not follow genetic principles of inheritance. Therefore, people are very unlikely to have a past life as one of their biologically related ancestors. Instead, it is very common for one to have a past-life in some faraway locality that is completely removed from any place that one's biological ancestors came from. For this reason it is also very common for one to be a member of a different race in a past life."

In another condition they were told:

"Information gained through conventional historical analysis strongly indicates that people who lived in past times experienced much more difficult and traumatic upbringings than do people in our own more advanced period. More specifically,children in earlier periods appear to have been frequently and severely abused and mistreated by their parents, older siblings or other adults. We are interested in finding out more about the kinds of abuse that children in earlier eras suffered, and for that reason we will question your past-life personality in some detail about their childhood experiences."

What Spanos and colleagues found was that their context manipulation strongly affected what kinds of past-life experiences their participants reported. Participants in the 'different sex/locality/race' condition were significantly more likely to report one of the three target characteristics than a control group. Similarly, participants given the context manipulation about abuse were significantly more likely to control participants to report past-life experiences of abuse. They conclude that past lives are not historically accurate accounts, but can better be described as "contextually-generated, rule-governed, goal-directed fantasies" which are constructed to meet the demands of the hypnotic situation. This study powerfully demonstrates the effect of context, and of non-hypnotic communications on hypnotic behaviours.

 

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