While studying Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985, I took a course in psychology. As part of the syllabus for the course, Professor Martin Orne came to the main lecture session and gave a gripping presentation on the phenomenon of hypnosis. He invited students at that time to sign up for the possible participation in a series of hypnosis experiments. I signed up and was invited to a group induction session as part of hypnosis susceptibility tests.
These tests explore the degree to which individuals respond to audio prompts, which at the time were played on a large reel-to-reel tape player at the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry located in West Philadelphia. There were four phases to the tests, which involved invoking a deep sense of relaxation and inner calm, while also harnessing the inner power of the mind. The tests were designed to abide by the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, Form A (HGSHS:A of Shor and Orne, 1962) and the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, Form C (SHSS:C of Weitzenhoffer and Hilgard, 1962).
Martin Theodore Orne, M.D., Ph.D. (October 16, 1927, Vienna, Austria – February 11, 2000, Paoli, Pennsylvania) was a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is best known for his pioneering research into demand characteristics, illustrating the weakness of informing participants that they are taking part in a psychology experiment and yet expecting them to act normally. He is noted for his therapeutic involvement with the poet Anne Sexton, and with the trials of Patty Hearst and Kenneth Bianchi. He was also well known as a researcher in the field of hypnosis, memory, recall, and age regression.
Over a period of six months I took part in these tests, as well as served as a respondent in a longer term set of experiments testing the degree to which hypnosis affects memory recall. Along with many other respondents, the results of these experiments were published in 1988.
Whitehouse, W. G., Dinges, D. F., Orne, E. C., & Orne, M. T. (1988) ‘Hypnotic hypermnesia: Enhanced memory accessibility or report bias?’ Journal of Abnormal Psychology, (97): 289-295.
Since these tests in 1985, I have been studying hypnosis as a science and as an experience. I have had the good fortune of experimenting with large and small audiences on the impact these tests have in a group setting and extending their utility to the realm of mentalism and mystery entertainment.
Instead of using audio recordings, I have acquired a set of susceptibility testing cards that take participants through the four phases of the tests that I experienced. I have added a metronome for participant concentration and focus, as well as a stopwatch and record form to register the results of the tests. The stopwatch also provides an additional tool to test susceptibility.
My extension of the tests has taken me into the world of mind-to-mind communication. My theory is that those individuals most prone to susceptibility and suggestion may also be more likely to be able to communicate their thoughts to others. Under double-blind testing conditions, I have had some success at my efforts with the simultaneous sharing of the inner thoughts of participants.
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