Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Professional Psychology: Debating Chamber · Psychology Journals · Psychologists

Ernest Hilgard (1904 - 2001) was an American psychologist who became famous in the 1950s for his research on hypnosis.


Born in Belleville, Illinois, Ernest Ropiequet Hilgard was the son of a physician, Dr. George Engelmann Hilgard, and Laura Ropiequet Hilgard.


Hilgard was initially drawn to engineering; he received a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1924. He then studied psychology, receiving a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1930. He also studied graduate classes at Yale University, where he met his wife, Josephine Rohrs. His early focus was upon conditioned responses, working with the human eye lid reflex. As part of this research he developed a photographic technique for recording the responses. In 1940 he was awarded the Warren Medal in Experimental Psychology for this work which explored the relationship between voluntary and involuntary responses.


After marriage they moved to California and he earned a job at Stanford University.

His papers are held at AHAP



Hilgard is specifically known for his theory that a so-called "hidden observer" is created in the mind while hypnosis is taking place. His research on the hidden observer during hypnotic pain management was intended to provide support for his neodissociationist theory. This theory held that a person undergoing hypnosis can still observe his or her own pain without consciously experiencing any suffering. The phenomenon of the "hidden observer" was controversial and critics claimed it could be manufactured by suggestions, indicating that it was possibly no more than an artifact of the instructions given to the research participants.[citation needed] Writing in the late 1970s (Hilgard, E. (1977). Divided consciousness: Multiple controls in human thought and action. New York, NY: Wiley), Ernest Hilgard became convinced that we all have another being sharing our lives. Hilgard termed this entity the ‘‘hidden observer.’’

In one of his books, Hilgard described a classic test demonstrating how this hidden entity is part of our consciousness. He wrote of a blind student who was hypnotized and, while in a trance state, was told that he would become deaf. The suggestion was so strong that he failed to react to any form of noise, even large sounds next to his ear. Of course, he also failed to respond to any questions he was asked while in his trance state. The hypnotist was keen to discover if ‘‘anybody else’’ was able to hear. He quietly said to the student, ‘‘Perhaps there is some part of you that is hearing my voice and processing the information. If there is, I should like the index finger of your right hand to rise as a sign that this is the case’’(Hilgard, 1977, p. 186). The finger rose. At this, the student requested that he be brought out of the hypnotically-induced period of deafness. On being‘‘awakened,’’ the student said that he had requested to come out of the trance state because ‘‘I felt my finger rise in a way that was not a spontaneous twitch, so you must have done something to make it rise, and I want to know what you did’’ (p. 186). The hypnotist then asked him what he remembered. Because the trance was light, the student never actually lost consciousness; all that occurred was that his hearing had ceased. In order to deal with the boredom of being deprived of both sight and sound,he had decided to work on some statistical problems in his head. It was while he was doing this that he suddenly felt his finger lift. This was obviously strange to him, because under normal circumstances he was, like all of us, the ‘‘person’’ who decides on how the body moves. In this case he was not. Not only that, but ‘‘somebody else’’ in his head was responding to an external request that he had not heard. As far as Hilgard was concerned, the person who responded was the ‘‘hidden observer.’’

One of Hilgard’s subjects made the following interesting statement about what she experienced, making particular reference to what she sensed was her higher self: The hidden observer is cognizant of everything that is going on. . . . The hidden observer sees more, he questions more, he’s aware of what is going on all of the time but getting in touch is totally unnecessary. . . . He’s like a guardian angel that guards you from doing anything that will mess you up. . . . The hidden observer is looking through the tunnel, and sees everything in the tunnel. . . . Unless someone tells me to get in touch with the hidden observer I’m not in contact. It’s just there. (Hilgard, 1977, p. 210) The hidden observer protects us from doing anything in hypnosis that we would not do under any circumstance consciously, such as causing someone else physical harm.


In 1949 he was elected presidents of American Psychological Association

Preceded by:
Donald G. Marquis
Ernest Hilgard elected APA President
Succeeded by:
J. P. Guilford


Hilgard was also the author of three hugely influential textbooks on topics other than hypnosis. The first, “Conditioning and Learning”, jointly authored with Donald Marquis, was very widely cited up until the 1960s. When Gregory Kimble updated a second edition in 1961, Hilgard and Marquis’s names were made part of the title, a distinction, as Hilgard himself noted, usually reserved for deceased authors.

A second text, “Theories of Learning” (1948), was also widely cited, and lasted for five editions (through 1981); the last three editions involved Hilgard's Stanford colleague Gordon H. Bower.

The third textbook was the well written and wide-ranging “Introduction to Psychology” (1953), which was, according to his biography on the website of the American Psychological Association, “for a long period, the most widely used introductory psychology text in the world.” Several editions were co-authored by Rita L. Atkinson or Richard C. Atkinson, another colleague at Stanford and later chancellor of the University of California at San Diego and then president and regent of the University of California. The 15th edition, published in 2009, is called “Atkinson and Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology”.


  • Hilgard, E. R. (1965). Hypnotic Susceptibility NY, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
  • Hilgard, E. R. (1977) Divided Consciousness: Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action John Wiley & Sons.
  • Hilgard, Ernest R. & Hilgard, Josephine R. (1975). Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain. Los Angeles: William Kaufmann.
  • Hilgard, E.R. (1987). Psychology in America: A historical survey. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
  • Hilgard E R & Marquis D G.(1940). Conditioning and Learning (book).

New York: Appleton-Century,

  • Hilgard, E.R. (1953). Introduction to psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Chapters in Books

  • Hilgard, E.R. (1976). Neodissociation theory of multiple cognitive controls. In Schwarz, G.E. and Shapiro, D., eds. Consciouness and self regulation. New York: Plenum Press.


  • Hilgard, E.R., Weitzenhoffer, A.M., Landes, J. and Moore, R.K. (1961) The distribution of susceptibility to hypnosis in a student population: a study using the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, Psychological Monographs 75: no. 512.

Further reading

  • Griggs, R.A. and Jackson, S.L. (1996). Forty years of introductory psychology:

An analysis of the first 10 editions of Hilgard et al.’s textbook. Teaching of Psychology, 23 (2), 144-150.

  • Hilgard, E. R. (1968). Hypnosis in Man and Beast: PsycCRITIQUES Vol 13 (2), Feb, 1968.
  • Vicenta Mestre, M., Tortosa,F. Samper, P. and Nácher,M. J.(2002) Psychology’s Evolution through its texts: Analysis of E. R. Hilgard’s

Introduction to Psychology. Psichothema, Vol. 14, nº 4, pp. 810-815. ISSN 0214 - 9915


  1. Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter H. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. URL accessed on 10 April 2011.
  2. NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing. National Academy of Sciences. URL accessed on 27 February 2011.
  • Hilgard, E.R. (1948) Theories of Learning, (1948) New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  • Hilgard, E.R. and Marquis, D.O. (1961) Conditioning and Learning, 2nd Edn. Prentice-Hall ISBN 978-0-13-388876-8
  • Hilgard, E.R. and Bower, G.H, (1966) Theories of Learning, 3rd Edn, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts
  • Hilgard, E.R. (1970) Introduction to Psychology. Harcourt Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-15-543646-5
  • Hilgard, E.R., Atkinson, R.L. and Atkinson, R.C. (1975) Introduction to Psychology. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich ISBN 0-15-543657-0
  • Mestre, M.V., Tortosa, F., Samper, P., and Nácher, M.J. (2002) Psychology’s Evolution through its texts: Analysis of E. R. Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology, Psicothema, 14, 810-815. ISBN 0214 – 9915

External links