The author explores the nature of hypnosis, which he characterizes as a motivated mode of information processing that enables most humans to alter, to varying degrees, their experience of body, self, actions, and world. The essence of hypnosis is not to be found in heterohypnosis; instead, it lies in the spontaneous self-activation of that mode of information processing. The hypnosis field has substantially lost sight of spontaneous self-activation, because the word hypnosis is usually used to mean heterohypnosis. Self-activation of the hypnotic mode of information processing is the necessary sine qua non of hypnotic psychopathology. Moreover, self-activation of trance is the characteristic hypnotic behavior of a distinct subset of highly hypnotizable individuals.
The division of cognition into primary and secondary processes is an important part of contemporary psychoanalytic metapsychology. Whereas primary processes are most characteristic of unconscious thought and loose associations, secondary processes generally govern conscious thought and logical reasoning. It has been theorized that an induction into hypnosis is accompanied by a predomination of primary process cognition over secondary process cognition. The authors hypothesized that highly hypnotizable individuals would demonstrate more primary process cognition as measured by a recently developed cognitive-perceptual task. This hypothesis was not supported. In fact, low hypnotizable participants demonstrated higher levels of primary process cognition. Exploratory analyses suggested a more specific effect: felt connectedness to the hypnotist seemed to promote secondary process cognition among low hypnotizable participants.