Orne, M.T. Can a hypnotized subject be compelled to carry out otherwise unacceptable
behavior?A discussion. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis,
1972, 20, 101-117.
The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 1972, Vol. XX, No.2,
CAN A HYPNOTIZED SUBJECT BE COMPELLED TO CARRY OUT
OTHERWISE UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR? 1,2
MARTIN T. ORNE 3
Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital and University of Pennsylvania
: The continuing controversy about antisocial behavior and hypnosis is seen as
related to the manner in which the question is traditionally phrased. Both the affirmative
and negative positions are impervious to empirical refutation. Thus, a refusal to carry out
antisocial actions can be ascribed to insufficient depth of hypnosis (or inadequate
hypnotic technique), while the behavior of Ss who comply can be explained by asserting
that the action merely represents what they would have done anyway. It is recognized
that, insofar as agreeing to enter hypnosis may eventually facilitate a closer relationship,
a S may become more likely to respond to certain requests than would otherwise be the
case. It is proposed that the effect which agreeing to be hypnotized might exert would be
similar to that characterized by a therapeutic relationship, a sexual relationship, or the use
of alcohol. The reasons why the antisocial aspect of this question cannot be addressed
experimentally are discussed. Further, no evidence is available to indicate that hypnosis
increases the behavioral control of the hypnotist over that already present prior to its
induction. Certainly, the popular view which holds that hypnosis is able to exert a unique
form of control over the hypnotized individual, which can compel him to carry out
otherwise repugnant actions, must be rejected.
The possibility that an individual may be compelled by means of hypnosis to carry out
actions otherwise repugnant to him for the benefit of some unscrupulous hypnotist has
long aroused the curiosity of novelists and scientists alike. In this context it seems
unnecessary to review in detail the many issues that are involved (see, for example,
Barber, 1961; Orne, 1961, 1962; Weitzenhoffer, 1949). As we have
Manuscript submitted October 28, 1971.
1 An earlier version of this discussion was presented at the annual meeting of the Society
for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Philadelphia, October, 1970.