Orne, M.T. A book review of Hammerschlag, Dr. H.E., Hypnotism and Crime. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science. 1958, 48 (5), 545.
"Hypnotism and Crime" is the English translation of a book published several years ago in German by Dr. Heinz E. Hammerschlag. It is published by the same organization that issued such ephemeral "books" as "Hypnotism Revealed," "Mental Powers through Sleep Suggestion," "Hypnotism Made Practical," etc. for drugstore distribution. One chapter is devoted to decrying the abuses of hypnotism on the stage, yet we find an English foreword by Melvin Powers, a stage hypnotist!
It is regrettable that the interesting problem of the relationship between hypnotism and crime is given a thoroughly naive treatment. The wellmeaning attempts of the author are hampered by his magical and archaic conception of hypnotism. He sees people as having either active or passive natures and makes statements such as, "In general only those people who exert a strong suggestive effect dispose of a powerful psychic activity." The recognition of the fact that hypnotism is an inter-personal relationship depending on the subject's motivation to enter trance is totally lacking in the author's description of the phenomenon.
The book is devoted to a series of cases allegedly involving the use of hypnotism either in crimes or in eliciting confessions to crimes. Only two cases are reported after 1900. One of these involves the controversial confession of van der Lubbe, of d Reichstag fire fame, which if anything, relates to brain washing techniques rather than to hypnotism as we know it. The other case presents the only cogent aspect of this monograph. It was studied extensively by Dr. Ludvig Mayer, a competent investigator and authority on hypnotism. It could have been preferable for the author to have devoted a monograph to this single case rather than to the highly dubious material which characterizes the remainder of this book.
The evidence on this case presented here is that of a farmer's wife who is repeatedly seduced by a quack doctor and an accomplice while under hypnosis. Further, the girl gives the hypnotist some 3,000 Marks over a period of time and is persuaded allegedly by hypnotism to make several unsuccessful attempts on her husband's life. This case alone in all the annals of criminology seems to present reliable evidence that hypnotism has played a role in an actual crime and could potentially be used in others. Unfortunately, the presentation of this case is very uncritical. The absence of a clear formulation of the victim's personality makes evaluation difficult. It is clear that the girl's life at home was emotionally sterile and one must wonder about her real wishes. Except for the use of hypnotism, the story of a girl who is seduced by a clever and sexually attractive psychopath, made to contribute financially to his support and even to attempt murder of her husband, is not particularly novel. Since this is the only case of this kind reliably reported, caution is necessary before drawing conclusions from it. It is quite probable that this represents an instance where a girl leading an emotionally impoverished existence seized upon hypnotism to justify actions she desired to do and for which she could not accept responsibility. This interpretation would be quite consistent with the results of recent studies and our present day understanding of hypnotism.
The author concludes that "the outcome of our investigation may well be described as unequivocal. We must affirm the possibility of misusing hypnosis for purposes of crime." In summing up this book we can only regret that this fascinating topic has not been treated in a more sophisticated fashion. It is conceivable for hypnosis to be used by an individual to justify actions he desires to do but for which he feels unable to accept responsibility. There is not sufficient evidence, however, to support the author's supposition that an individual can be forced to act in a fashion really incongruent with his basic wishes; and accordingly the conclusions reached seem untenable and highly misleading.
MARTIN T. ORNE, M.A.. M.D.