The first hypnosis depth scale was developed by Theodore Sabin. He was a social psychologist who developed a theory called role theory. The basic idea is that we all live out a number of well-defined roles. These roles are socially constructed. That means that we learn them from other people and we behave in certain ways depending upon what other people expect us to do. Each of these roles comprises of a consistent and repeatable cluster of behaviors, ideas, beliefs and attitudes. Who we want the world to believe we are is the result of the learned roles we choose to play.
Each person has family roles, social roles, business roles, public roles and private roles. For example, I may have a father role, a husband role, a different role when interacting with my dog, another set of behaviors when I’m in the pub, and another role in the cinema. The role may be automatic, or I may be putting it on, pretending to be angry with a late employee. In all of these situations I behave according to a set of unwritten rules. And so does everyone else. As long as we all play our roles, and we all do what’s expected of us, everything is fine. There are policeman roles, teacher roles, pastor roles, etc., which are actually different from the private values of the people carrying out those roles.
Role-playing and role taking are two different things. Role taking is where you knowingly take on another role and act it out. It is done deliberately in order to influence other people, usually so they will approve of you. Teenagers do it all the time. Go to any concert and you will see people taking on the role of a fan of a particular type of music and trying to behave as they believe real dedicated fan would. The difference is that the real fans are not acting.
The hypnosis depth scale
Most students of hypnosis will recognise something called the hypnotic depth scale, although few will know the origin of it. This was published by Friedlander and Sabin in 1938. It used a standard text that was delivered in a standard way under standard conditions. The idea was that some people would be hypnotised some people would not, and by using a standard text the only difference would be the susceptibility of the people being hypnotised.
People were classified according to whether hearing the suggestions in the text would induce eye catalepsy, muscle paralysis, finger lock, post hypnotic suggestions and so on. The more things that you showed under hypnosis was a measure of the depth to which you were hypnotised. This scale was later further developed into the Stanford scale.
Sabin believed that everyone acted out roles, consciously or unconsciously. His theory of hypnosis was that every person who was being hypnotized was actually choosing a role. You could choose the role of being highly susceptible, or you could choose the role of being unhypnotizable. Neither were true: they were both roles. So a person on stage being hypnotized would react in the way that they imagined someone on stage being hypnotized would act, and they would act accordingly. This became known as the Role Theory of hypnosis.