6 Biological Bases of Behavior
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Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness characterized by deep relaxation and heightened suggestibility. Under hypnosis, subjects can change aspects of reality and let those changes influence their behavior. Hypnotized individuals may feel as if their bodies are floating or sinking; see, feel, hear, smell, or taste things that are not there; lose sense of touch or pain; be made to feel like they are passing back in time; act as if they are out of their own control; and respond to suggestions by others. For some people, this make-believe may be so vivid and intense that they have trouble differentiating it from reality. Subjects can actually think immersing a hand in ice water is comfortable! Many psychologists think hypnosis involves highly focused awareness and intensified imagination. Other psychologists propose social cognitive theories that hypnosis is a social phenomenon in which highly motivated subjects enter a hypnotized “role.” Still others believe that hypnosis involves a division or dissociation of consciousness. According to the dissociation theory, hypnotized individuals experience two or more streams of consciousness cut off from each other. According to Ernest Hilgard, part of the consciousness responds to suggestions, while the other, the “hidden observer,” remains in the background monitoring behavior. Evidence for this dissociation of consciousness is provided by hypnotized subjects who indicate, for example, that a part of them is experiencing more pain with hands submerged in ice water than the hypnotized subjects acknowledge. After hypnosis, the individual may follow a posthypnotic suggestion and may have a thought or feeling without conscious knowledge of its hypnotically suggested source, or may experience posthypnotic amnesia, forgetting selected events by suggestion. One of the most important practical applications of hypnosis is in analgesia (pain control), which is used in surgery, childbirth, and dentistry.