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Ernest R. Hilgard, hypnosis pioneer, 97



Stanford Report, October 30, 2001 

Psychologist Ernest R. Hilgard, hypnosis pioneer, dead at 97 
BY MEREDITH ALEXANDER 

Ernest R. "Jack" Hilgard, professor emeritus of psychology, died
peacefully in Palo Alto on Oct. 22. He was 97 years old. The cause of
death was cardiopulmonary arrest. 

A Stanford professor since 1933, Hilgard was known for his
comprehensive understanding of psychological ideas. His books covered a
wide range of ground, especially the fields of learning, motivation
and, during the latter part of his career, hypnosis. 

"Jack was a big figure on the American scene," said Gordon Bower, the
Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology, who was Hilgard's co-author
for later editions of the book Theories of Learning. 

Bower credits Hilgard with helping to raise the Stanford Department of
Psychology to national prominence. "He was instrumental in building up
the Stanford psychology department," Bower said. Hilgard's tenure "was
the big growth spurt, when Stanford's psychology department became
number one in the country," he added. 

Professor Ernest Hilgard runs a psychology experiment with Harold
Waterman in 1953. Photo: Stanford News Service 

Hilgard's publications included Conditioning and Learning (with Donald
G. Marquis, 1940), Theories of Learning (1948) and Introduction to
Psychology (1953), a widely used textbook that went through many
editions and was translated into several languages. 

In the 1950s, Hilgard made headlines as a pioneer in the scientific
study of hypnosis. He and his wife, Josephine, who was a clinical
professor of psychiatry at Stanford until her death in 1989,
established the Laboratory of Hypnosis Research at Stanford. The
couple's collaboration resulted in numerous publications and books,
including Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain (1975) and Divided
Consciousness (1977). Their research on the use of hypnosis in the
treatment of childhood cancer earned them grants from the National
Cancer Institute, and other hypnosis projects garnered funding from the
Ford Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. Hilgard
served as president of the International Society of Hypnosis in the
1970s. 

"In earlier times, hypnosis was like a kind of mystical phenomenon that
respectable research psychologists didn't study -- it was left to
magicians. Jack got really interested in making it scientific and
objective," Bower said. "One of the most important things he did was
develop a measuring scale to measure depth of hypnosis, or how
susceptible people were to hypnosis," he added. The scale, known as the
Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, is still used. It has helped to
standardize research practices surrounding hypnosis. 

Professor Ernest Hilgard was part of a delegation of educators invited
by General MacArthur to advise his staff and the Japanese ministry of
education on demilitarizing the Japanese school system after World War
II. Hilgard is seated with Frank Freeman, dean of the school of
education at the University of California, Berkeley; Pearl Wannamaker,
Washington state superintendent of public instruction; and David
Stevens of the Rockefeller Foundation's Division of Humanities. Photo:
Stanford News Service 

In his later years, Hilgard lectured about the history of psychology
and offered his own personal recollections of early contributors,
including Ivan Pavlov. His interest in this subject was reflected in
his book Psychology in America: A Historical Survey (1978). The book
was warmly received, Bower recalled. 

Hilgard's wide-ranging interests were recognized by his colleagues many
times. When he was given the American Psychological Foundation's Gold
Medal Award in 1978, the group cited Hilgard for having made
"scientific contributions to nearly every field of psychology, most
notably in learning and states of consciousness." 

"He always did extraordinarily careful work," recalled longtime
colleague and former dean and provost Albert Hastorf, the Benjamin
Scott Crocker Professor of Human Biology, Emeritus, and professor
emeritus of psychology. 

Other honors included election to the National Academy of Sciences, the
National Academy of Education and the American Philosophical Society.
He served as president of the American Psychological Association, and
in 1991 The American Psychologist, the group's publication, recognized
Hilgard as one of the top 10 most important contemporary psychologists.
In 1994 the association presented him with its award for outstanding
lifetime contribution to psychology. 

Hilgard had many interests outside of academia. He contributed to
community causes and human rights. "He was really a very decent
person," Hastorf said. 

Among his civic activities, Hilgard was a founding member of the Palo
Alto Co-op in the 1930s. After World War II, he helped to establish a
nursery school at Stanford to assist married students returning from
the war, and he was a member of an educational mission to Japan in 1946
to aid with postwar changes in the Japanese educational system. 

Hilgard was born in 1904 in Belleville, Ill. He attended the University
of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he earned a bachelor's degree in
1924, followed by graduate studies at Yale, where he met his wife,
Josephine Rohrs. After Hilgard received his doctorate in psychology in
1930, the couple traveled west to California, where Hilgard joined the
Stanford faculty in 1933. By 1942, he was chair of the Department of
Psychology. From 1951 to 1955, Hilgard served as dean of Stanford's
graduate division. He became emeritus in 1969. 

Hilgard's son, Henry, of Santa Cruz, said his father had a "wonderful
love of life." His son recalled that Hilgard entertained the family
with songs and rhymes from his boyhood, delighted his grandchildren by
standing on his head and walking on his hands, and loved to make
pancake breakfasts. He also enjoyed bird watching, hiking and
gardening. Hilgard also is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth H.
Jecker, of San Luis Obispo; five grandchildren; and six
great-grandchildren. 

Private family services will be held. Contributions may be made to a
charity of the donor's choice. 

 

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