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The ideo-motor response (or "ideo-motor reflex"), often abbreviated to IMR, is a concept in hypnosis and psychological research. It is derived from the terms 'ideo' (idea, or mental representation) and 'motor' (muscular action). The phrase is most commonly used in reference to the process whereby a thought or mental image brings about a seemingly "reflexive" or automatic muscular reaction, often of miniscule degree, and potentially outside of the awareness of the subject. The cognate term "ideo-dynamic response" (or "reflex") extends to the description of all bodily reactions caused in a similar manner by certain ideas, e.g., the salivation often caused by imagining sucking a lemon, which is a secretory response. Here, "ideo-dynamic" means "the power of an idea (over the body)". In the Victorian psychological terminology from which this concept derives, an "idea" may include any mental representation, e.g., a mental image or memory, etc. The ideo-dynamic response became the original neuro-psychological theory of suggestion in hypnotism.

History[edit | edit source]


The ideo-motor reflex. Diagram from Carpenter's The Principles of Mental Physiology (1874).

The term "ideo-motor reflex" or "ideo-motor response" was introduced in the 1840s by the eminent Victorian physiologist and psychologist William Benjamin Carpenter. Carpenter was a friend and collaborator of James Braid, the founder of hypnotism. Braid soon assimilated the ideo-motor theory into hypnotism and it became the central theory of hypnotic suggestion. In The Physiology of Fascination (1855), James Braid writes,

In order that I may do full justice to two esteemed friends, I beg to state, in connection with this term monoideo-dynamics, that, several years ago, Dr. W. B. Carpenter introduced the term ideo-motor to characterise the reflex or automatic muscular motions which arise merely from ideas associated with motion existing in the mind, without any conscious effort of volition. In 1853, in referring to this term, Dr. [Daniel] Noble said, “Ideo-dynamic would probably constitute a phraseology more appropriate, as applicable to a wider range of phenomena.” In this opinion I quite concurred, because I was well aware that an idea could arrest as well as excite motion automatically, not only in the muscles of voluntary motion, but also as regards the condition of every other function of the body. I have, therefore, adopted the term monoideo-dynamics, as still more comprehensive and characteristic as regards the true mental relations which subsist during all dynamic changes which take place, in every other function of the body, as well as in the muscles of voluntary motion.[1]

Braid coined the term "monoideo-dynamic" to express his theory that hypnotism functioned primarily by concentrating attention upon a single (mono) "dominant idea", which he believed amplified the ideo-dynamic or ideo-motor response.

Uses[edit | edit source]

Questioning[edit | edit source]

It is strongly associated with the practice of hypnosis, whereby 'yes' or 'no' answers may be given by indication of a physical manifestation rather than a verbal one; such results are produced by 'pre-suggesting' the correct response and attaching it to either the left or right hand side of the subject's body.

An example of IMR[edit | edit source]

If you were to be asked to imagine doing up your shoelaces as vividly as possible, your brain would consciously fixate on the task and work through it as vividly and as logically as possible. The theory of IMR would imply that your muscular memory associated with your hands, would then attempt the task physically, but abort the process unless it was truly necessary and curtail the events that would unfold if you were actually willing to send the complete information along your nervous system to your hands. This may therefore involve an involuntary 'twitch' or movement of the associated digits are placed into preparation of function, processed against reality and then given the signal to not actually act.

In hypnosis, this may be circumvented by dissociating the particular thought-process-response-abort of a digit or entire limb; and therefore give control to the unconscious mind to enable (by suggestion) the route of conscious thought-unconscious process-conscious process (of the fact)-conscious response (do not act)- unconscious response (dissociate from conscious)- ignore abortive conscious attempt- unconscious unabort... Which would then display a reaction or response in a physical manner or behavioral context.

Body language may be considered the most commonly visible aspect of IMR, but may also include such unconscious activities as doodling or art - as the conscious thought is sublimated into a different type of activity in unconscious expression.

External links[edit | edit source]

The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BSCH) [1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Braid, J. (1855) The Physiology of Fascination.
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