Orne, M.T. The nature of hypnosis: Artifact and essence. Journal of Abnormal and Social
Psychology, 1959, 58, 277-299.
THE NATURE OF HYPNOSIS : ARTIFACT AND ESSENCE 1
MARTIN T. ORNE
Harvard University and Massachusetts Mental Health Center
THE most meaningful present-day theories of hypnosis interpret hypnotic phenomena
along three major lines: (a) desire on the part of the subject to play the role of a
hypnotized subject (Sarbin, 1950; White, 1941), (b) increase in suggestibility (Hull,
1933), and (c) a further less well-defined category that is called by White "an altered state
of consciousness" and by others, "cortical inhibition" (Pavlov, 1923), dissociation
(Weitzenhoffer, 1953), etc. depending on their theoretical orientations.
The heuristic model of hypnosis that underlies this paper incorporates these three aspects.
One of the hypotheses of the paper holds that much hypnotic behavior results from the
subject's conception of the role of the hypnotic subject as determined by past experience
and learning, and by explicit and implicit cues provided by the hypnotist and the
situation. These varied role conceptions appear to be the source of most if not all of the
inconstant patterns of behavior seen in the hypnotic state.
An increase in suggestibility may be viewed as an increase in motivation to conform to
the wishes of the hypnotist. A second basic hypothesis to be tested thus proposes that,
although increased motivation may be a constant accompaniment of the trance state, such
increased motivation is by no means a phenomenon unique to hypnosis but can be seen to
operate in other experimental and life situations with equal force.
By experimentally controlling these two elements, role-playing and increased motivation,
it is possible to investigate their sufficiency for explaining all aspects of the trance state
and the extent to which still other concepts, such as an altered state of consciousness, are
The third aspect of hypnosis, the altered state of consciousness, presents the greatest
problem for investigation, yet it has been felt necessary to include the concept in all
attempts to explain the phenomenon. This residual aspect, which remains after increased
motivation and role-playing are accounted for, may be regarded as the "essence" of
hypnosis, with reference to which increased motivation and role-playing appear as
Three related experiments are presented. The first is devoted to the effects of "role-play
artifact" on the manifestations of hypnosis commonly seen clinically. It demonstrates that
much of the complex phenomenon which we call hypnosis may result from (a) the
subject's preconceptions of what hypnosis is, (b) implicit cues by the hypnotist as to what
he thinks it should be, and (c) the particular techniques of trance induction. The second