Probably the best example of a practical application of hypnosis is its use in reducing the pain response. It has proved to be a remarkably effective anesthetic; indeed the widespread use of hypnosis as a medical anesthetic in the nineteenth century was halted only by the introduction of ether and chloroform as more acceptable substitutes.
Two types of pain have been studied extensively in the laboratory. In research into ischemic pain. a blood pressure cuff or tourniquet is attached to the subject’s arm and tightened; the subject is then told to exercise the hand and fingers, There is almost no pain at first, but then very severe pain starts, becoming almost intolerable by 10 to 20 minutes from the time the tourniquet is applied. Ischemic pain produced in this way resembles the pain that follows surgery (Hilgard, 1975). In research into cold-pressor pain the person’s hand and arm are placed in ice water. The pain is severe arid intensifies very rapidly; 30-45 seconds are as much as most people can tolerate.
Under hypnosis it is suggested to subjects that they will feel no pain from either of these two procedures. There is some positive effect for all subjects, regardless of the individual level of responsiveness. With the cold-pressor test, 67 percent of subjects who are highly responsive to hypnotism show substantial pain reduction. Of subjects who have medium or low responsiveness, 17 and 13 percents respectively, experience significant pain reduction (Hilgard, 1975).
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