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A learning center for hypnosis and self hypnosis education. A resource for finding professional referrals for hypnosis treatment of medical and psychotherapeutic issues. A learning center for hypnosis and self hypnosis education. A resource for finding professional referrals for hypnosis treatment of medical and psychotherapeutic issues.
Member: American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association
What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis: Fact and Fiction
Is Hypnosis Dangerous?
Ideomotor Action
Semantic-Imagery Relaxation
Structuring Auto-Suggestions
Administrating Auto-Suggestions
Deepening the Hypnotic Trance
Testing the Hypnotic Trance
Emotional Behavior
Neuro-Dynamics
Psychosomatic Disorders
Rules of the Mind
Language
The Power of Creative Imagination
How to Set Realistic Goals
Self-Inventory
You Can Learn to Relax
Glossary of Terms
Finding a Hypnotherapist Near You
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Module 3 - Conditioning and Language

Classical Conditioning

In order to better understand what hypnosis is and why subjects respond to suggestions as they do, we will have to look at how out nervous system works and how we learn to respond to the world around us. All of the information about the world around us is provided by receptors on the surface of our bodies. These receptors are our sense organs -- eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue, etc. Each of these receptors is connected to your Central Nervous System (CNS) by neurons (nerve cells). There are other nerve cells that go from your CNS (Brain and Spinal Cord) to the muscles and glands of your body. These are called effectors; they affect your muscles and glands in some way. The things in your environment that affect you are called signals. A signal causes a change in one or more of your receptors. A change in your receptor is called the stimulus.

There are many environmental events (signals) going on around us that elicit a response from us. Most of the stimuli we encounter cause us to respond in a predictable manner. For example, loud sounds, electric shock, hot objects, visual stimuli, and so on will elicit such responses as the flow of gastric juices, the volume of blood in internal organs, the rate of the heart beat, the blood pressure, the size of the pupil of the eye, activity of the sweat glands and so on. Many of the responses are called reflexes. For example, if you put a piece of candy in your mouth, it will result in the flow of saliva in the mouth. The candy (the signal) stimulates the taste buds that start a nerve impulse, that goes to various centers in the CNS, which in turn sends a nerve impulse to the salivary glands that causes them to secrete saliva (the response).

This stimulus-response action is the foundation of your behavior. Everything you do is a matter of stimulus and response. For example, if you hear someone call your name, you turn to see who is calling. This is what occurs, the sound of your name (the signal) causes a change (the stimulus) in your ear. The change (the stimulus) sends a nerve impulse to the center of your brain that in turn sends a nerve impulse to your muscles. Your muscles than turn you toward the sound. The turning is the response.

The circuit from the receptor (ear, eye, nose, etc.) through the Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord) to the effectors (muscles or glands) is called the stimulus-response arc. This is the mechanism responsible for all human behavior. When a child is first born, his entire behavior is determined by these arcs. The child's behavior is entirely of a reflex nature. However, as the child grows older. he learns to modify, inhibit, enhance, and voluntarily control some these stimulus-response arcs.

Ivan Petrovich PavlovI.P. Pavlov How we learn to control and modify some of our stimulus-response arcs was first demonstrated by Pavlov. He used dogs to investigate how the S-R arcs functioned. The same laws apply to human beings, but people seem to object to being experimented on, which is why he used dogs. His fundamental experiments with dogs are well established. We will not go into a detailed account of his experiments here.¹


He demonstrated that signals that did not have the power to elicit a specific response, could gain that power. For example, if a dog is given a piece of meat, the salivary glands secrete saliva. The meat stimulates the flow of saliva. If a bell is rung, or a light is turned on, but no meat is given to the dog it did not salivate. Pavlov demonstrated that the ringing of a bell or the turning on of a light could gain the power to make the dog salivate. If a stimulus that does not elicit the salivary response (i.e. the sound of a bell) is paired with the meat, this stimulus will after a number of pairings gain the power to elicit the salivary response. Once the conditioning has occurred, the ringing of the bell alone will elicit the salivary reflex.

The stimulus that originally elicits a response is called the Unconditioned Stimulus (US). In the above example, this is the meat. The stimulus that at first does not elicit the response is called the Conditioned Stimulus (CS). In our example, this is the sound of a bell. If after the conditioning, the CS is presented times without the US, the response to the CS will begin to weaken. This is known as extinction. However, the response to the CS can be maintained if it is only intermittently paired with the US and can become very resistant to extinction.

Pavlov found salivation could be conditioned to any neutral stimulus that the dog could detect sounds of metronomes, buzzers, lights, touches of the finger, etc. One dog was conditioned to salivate when it received an electric shock. At first the shock was very weak as to be barely perceptible. As the shock was increased in strength it was found that a very strong shock produced no sign of pain or displeasure. There was no quickening of the heartbeat or breathing that usually accompanies an unpleasant event. Instead the shock was followed by mouth-watering and tail wagging.

More recently, J.P. Segundo, at the Institudo de investigacion de ciencias biologicas, in Montevideo, has reported experiments similar to Pavlov's, removal by conditioning, of the sensation of pain from noxious stimuli. In his experiments, cats were conditioned to "turn off" the sensation of pain associated with an electrical shock. In his conditioning procedure, a musical note was sounded a few seconds after the electric current producing the pain was turned off. Eventually, the sounding of the musical note alone would cause the cats to exhibit all the symptoms of relaxation that accompanied the cessation of the painful electric shock even though the current had not been turned off.

It is well known that there is some kind of "switch" in the nervous system that is capable, under certain circumstances, of turning off the sense of pain. Many people have had the experience of being severely injured in a highly excited situation and not be aware of pain until the after the excitement had subsided. This is common among people injured in battle or in automobile accidents.

Some of the most interesting examples of conditioning, where connections between simple stimuli and bodily responses normally not under voluntary control have been conditioned, are found in experiments on humans. In an experiment performed by C.V. Hudgins, the conditioned stimulus was the sound of a bell. The bell was rung and then a light was directed into the eye of the subject. When the light struck the eye the pupil of the eye contracted. This is due to the normal pupillary-control reflex. After many repetitions of this procedure, the sound of the bell alone caused the pupil to contract. Next Hudgins replaced the sound of the bell with the spoken word "contract." In several hours of training, the sound of the word "contract" gained the power to force an involuntary contraction of the pupil.

This is an important discovery. Hudgins, by just saying the word "contract" could now produce a strong contraction of the subject's pupil. This conditioning, with and without retraining, lasted fifteen to ninety days.

Some of his subjects were taught to say the word "contract" aloud as they went through the conditioning procedure. Before long, these subjects could make their pupil contract by saying the word "contract" with out the light or the bell. Later, he conditioned five subjects to contract their pupils when they just thought the word "contract." The light or bell was no longer needed. By way of conditioning it was possible to gain control over that which is normally uncontrollable. Other subjects were conditioned to dilate their pupils by thinking the word "relax."

R. Menzies reported an experiment he performed in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1941. He put a stencil patterned "XX" in front of a blue electric bulb. When the XX pattern was illuminated, he instructed subjects to whisper the word "crosses" while looking at them. Two seconds latter the right hands of the subjects were immersed in ice water. The combination of light and cold continued for about thirty seconds.

It is a neurological fact that if one hand is suddenly chilled, the other will become somewhat chilled also. This is believed to be do to a bilateral reflex action. To the dry left hand a sensitive temperature-recording device was attached. Menzies recorded the drop in temperature of the dry hand as the other was chilled. He conditioned this chilling to the combined stimulus of a blue light and repetition of the word "crosses."

After forty, three minute training sessions, all of the subjects he conditioned upon looking at the light and saying the word "crosses" (without any ice water) produced a measurable drop in temperature of the left hand. The drop in temperature was do to a constriction of blood vessels in the hands. This physical change was produced by a conditioned response to a light-vocal "bell."

Pavlov found that once a stimulus (i.e., Bell) has gained the power to trigger a response (i.e., Salivation) the stimulus can then "pass" the response on to a new stimulus (i.e., A Light). The third stimulus can then elicit a response without ever having been paired with the original environmental stimulus that elicits the response.

Semantic Conditioning

In humans, the meaning of words, can and do act as conditioned stimuli that can produce involuntary bodily functions. For example, if a subject has been conditioned to decrease the diameter of his pupil at the ringing of a bell, the word "ringing" can also produce the same response without the actual ringing of the bell. This will only work with humans, not with other animals. It is not the sound of the word humans react to, but the meaning of the word. On the other hand, if a subject is conditioned to respond to a word, and the stimulus object the word "denotes" is later presented to the subject, the object (never conditioned to elicit the response) will also elicit the response. That is the two stimuli (the word stimulus and the object stimulus) are functionally equivalent.

As an example, lets say the word "red" has been used as the conditioned stimulus in a classical conditioning procedure. It is paired with an electrical shock as the stimulus. After a few trials the word "red" will elicit a conditioned heart response. At a later time if the subject is shown a red light it will be found that the red light will also elicit the conditioned heart response.

The principle underlying classical conditioning is this: If the stimulation of a specific pattern of sensory neurons (nerve cells) in the brain is followed by a specific pattern of activity of motor or glandular neurons, repetition of the sequence will ultimately create neuronal connections so that the sensory pattern alone can directly drive the motor or glandular response. This is an automatic process; it does not involve any consciousness of the procedure. A conditioned reflex, once created, requires no conscious effort. It just happens.

We will mention one more experiment performed by D. G. Ellson. He sat his subjects in a comfortable chair. On the left arm of the chair was a small light bulb. He sounded a thousand cycle tone for several seconds after which the light bulb was illuminated. The tone acting as the unconditioned stimulus was paired with the light acting as the conditioned stimulus. Thirty-two of forty subjects conditioned this way, reported hearing the tone when only the light was presented alone. This means that thirty-two of the subjects were conditioned into hearing auditory hallucinations. In other word, eighty percent of the subjects could not tell the difference between a "real" sound and their own hallucinations.

Human beings are constantly conditioned to words throughout their life. Not to the sound of the word, but to the meaning of the word. Words are the "bells" of conditioned reflexes. Lets see how a child might be conditioned to the concept of an apple. Suppose we show a child a shiny red apple. As we do we say the word "ap-ple." After we do this a few times a neural pattern is created in the child's brain representing the concept of "apple." This pattern would have two components, one auditory one visual. Ultimately the sight of the apple alone would be enough to trigger both the auditory and visual concept of "apple." The spoken word alone would trigger the visual image in the child's imagination of the physical apple. Suppose now we let the child touch the apple each time we show him an apple. The neural pattern in the brain begins to build as the concept of "apple" includes more sensory modalities. Next, we let the child taste and smell the apple. If the child likes the apple, a neural pattern for "pleasure" is created. Next the child may be taught to say the word "apple" as he sees, feels, smells and eats it. When the child has developed the concept apple, The aroma from a near by apple orchard is enough to cause the child to "think" apple. In this case, the odor component triggers the neural pattern that represents the concept apple. When words are conditioned to concepts they become signals, the thinking or speaking of which can elicit the entire package of properties that make up the concept.

Words are the "bells" of conditioned reflexes. Such words as "wonderful," "marvelous," and "beautiful," make us feel good because we have been conditioned to respond to them in that way. The words "freezing," "ice" and "snow" have a cold quality because of their past associations.

What do you see when a good subject is hypnotized? The hypnotist says, "your eyes are so heavy, your body feels so tired. You feel so sleepy. You just want to sleep. Your body feels heavy. Your arms are so tired. " And so on. Soon the subject's eyes close and he drifts off into a trance. Is it not plausible that the use of the word "heavy" in good subjects is associated with heavy feeling and the repetitious use of the word acts as a "bell" that triggers actual heavy feelings.

Within the conditioned reflex is the essence of hypnosis. When a hypnotized subject shivers when the hypnotist suggests ice and snow, it is do to verbally conditioned "bells" waiting to be rung. Hypnosis is the eliciting of reactions in a human being through the use of verbal or associated reflexes.

Pavlov refer to the conditioned reflex approach to hypnosis when he said "Speech, on account of the whole preceding life of the adult, is connected up with all the internal and external stimuli which can reach the cortex, signaling all of them and replacing all of them, and therefore it can call forth all those reactions of the organism themselves. We can, therefore, regard 'suggestion' as the most simple form of a typical conditioned reflex in man."

V. M. Bechterev also alluded to the reflex aspect of hypnosis¹. "Every word, being a sign, is in accordance with the associated-reflex scheme, associated as a secondary stimulus either with an external or internal stimulus, or with some state, posture, or movement of the individual in question. The word consequently plays the role of an external stimulus, and becomes a substitute, according to the association established, for an external influence or a certain inner state."

Language and Thought

Words describe things and events. Everything tends to be given a name (a sound symbol) that permits them to be easily evoked in their absence. However, the word becomes detached from the object or event it signifies and acquires an independent life. From this point on, language is no longer a means of communication, a series of signals between two persons, but an instrument of thought. Only man makes use of an internal language, which is no longer speech, since it is not expressed in sound, but a method of thinking. A word is not some mysterious substance stored in a nerve cell but the functional relationship that exists between millions of neurons.

Although on a physiological plane, language does not differ from other conditioned reflexes, it is a very particular aspect of conditioning, one that only exists in man. Language was considered by Pavlov and his followers as a secondary system of signals. The primary system, the system of non-verbal signals, is the only one that exists in animals. Pavlov wrote "As regards man, speech is clearly a conditioned stimulus as real as all those that he has in common with animals, but on the other hand, it goes farther than they go and like no other stimulus, it embraces a multitude of purposes. In this connection, speech allows no comparison, either qualitative or quantitative, with the conditioned stimuli of animals." Later he went on to say "If our sensations and our observations as regards the world about us constitute for us the first signals of reality, the concrete signals, it is speech and, above all, the kinesthetic stimuli (muscular sensitivity) linking the speech organs with the cortex that constitutes the secondary signals, the signals that devolve from signals. They represent an abstraction of reality and lend themselves to a superior generalization, which is exactly what constitutes our specifically human method of thought."

A dog can be trained to react to the word "bell," but the actual ringing of a bell would not produce the same response. The word for the dog has no value except as a signal it has been trained to respond to. It has no general abstract significance that enables it to replace it by the sound of a bell. On the other hand, a human trained to react to a bell can react in the same way to the word "bell" or a synonym of it. The word is a signal of a signal. In the course of a man's development everything that occurs in the primary system of signals acquires a reflex in the secondary system that is always more complete and precise. In man the secondary system predominates over the primary. However, since its acquisition is more recent it is also more fragile. It is the first to disappear in hypnotic states.

1. Pavlov, I.P. Conditioned Reflexes. Oxford University Press, 1927 Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes. Vol. I,International Publishers, N.Y., 1928 Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry. International Publishers, N.Y., 1941
2. Bechterev, V. M. General Principles of Human Reflexology. International Publishers, N.Y.

Continue to Module 4 - Mind Set



The instructions presented are from the personal collections and writing library of Mr. Robert E. Cutter, who died December 13, 2001, while in the process of completing the transfer of his work to the internet. These are offered as educational instruction only. The purpose of this instruction is the effective learning and use of hypnotic techniques for vocational or avocational self-improvement. This instruction is not offered as a substitute for, nor as a supplement to, any form of therapy concerned with physical, mental, nervous or emotional illness. Robert E. Cutter served as web consultant for American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association for three years. His hypnosis education came through the training he provided at a school he owned in the 1950's in Los Angeles, California, along with his wife who preceded him in death in 1980. Robert Cutter was not a psychologist and did not practice psychotherapy, but his interest in hypnosis motivated him to provide free resources materials for others who wanted to learn to use the power of their minds to improve well being and health-related issues.
Michael A. Robinson, R.N.- BC Psychiatry
Licensed Texas State Nursing Board Registered Nurse
Texas State Nursing Board Certified in Psychiatry
In Honor and Memory of Robert E. Cutter, B.S. 1923-d.2001
From the Writings of Robert Cutter's Self Hypnosis Center
About Feelings Network
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