On the Centrality of the Concept of an Altered State to Definitions of Hypnosis.


  • Graham F. Wagstaff University of Liverpool


Hypnosis, hypnotism, trance, altered state, suggestion, hypnotizability


Compilers of most dictionaries and encyclopaedias seem to have similar views on the fundamental defining characteristic of hypnosis: it is an altered state of consciousness. In contrast, experts in the field of hypnosis continue to have in difficulty in coming up with definitions of hypnosis and relat- ed terminology on which all can agree. In this paper, it is argued that a major problem in reaching agreement amongst experts on these issues is that, in an attempt to accommodate different theo- retical viewpoints, we have lost sight of the etymological origins of terms used when discussing the nature of hypnosis and related phenomena (terms such as hypnosis, hypnotism, hypnotizability, hypnotic induction etc.). As a result, hypnosis and related terms are often defined and applied in disparate ways that do not coherently relate to each other. Some examples illustrative of the general problems are given, and attention is drawn to some possible ways of defining hypnosis and related terminology that acknowledge and maintain the essential features of the original definitions, yet are consistent with different modern explanatory frameworks. The main conclusion drawn is that the concept of an altered state should be central to any definition of hypnosis.