L-R: E.F. Patten, S.A. Switzer, and C.T. Perin
Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique that has been around for centuries. It has long been recognized as an effective means for treating people with phobias, addictions, anxieties, depression, pain, and a variety of other health-related issues, including memory loss. It has helped transform countless lives for the better.
But in the first part of the 20th century, hypnosis had become something of a fad. These were the days before the profession had developed its ethical standards, and some people considered the phenomenon of putting someone under to be a means of amusement rather than a clinical tool. Any gathering seemed to be an excuse to bring in a hypnotist. They were the entertainment at fraternity parties, women’s luncheons, and Kiwanis club meetings. After an in-class demonstration, students would feel emboldened to try it out on each other afterward. Anyone with a pocket watch on a chain and a script in hand—“You’re getting sleepy…very sleepy”—could give it a go.
Such amateur antics would rankle hypnosis expert Everett Frank Patten, longtime head of Miami’s psychology department, to no end. “Many are the times that I remember a student frantically asking for his help in bringing a friend out of a hypnotic state,” Patten’s daughter relayed to me one day in an email. “It made my dad furious that students were using it as entertainment.”
It was no coincidence that Miami had become heavy into hypnosis by 1953. That’s generally how things operate in academia: A professor-researcher mentors a doctoral student, who, upon graduation (and, nowadays, after some post-doctoral training), becomes a faculty member somewhere else. That person mentors a student, who mentors another student, ad infinitum. Pretty soon, an extended family of professors is flourishing at universities around the country and globe with the entire lineage rooted, at least generally speaking, in a similar philosophy and upbringing. If the original researcher happens to be a superstar in a given field, he or she will have mentored scores of students during his or her most high-octane years.
On top of all that, Miami’s psychology department didn’t have a graduate program of its own back then. If you were a psych major who desired to work toward a higher degree, you had no choice but to go elsewhere. A professor who found an undergraduate student to be exceptional might have counseled that person to study at the same university as he studied, perhaps even with the same researcher.
So it was that, in 1953, Miami’s psychology department had on its payroll three faculty members who had been mentored by Clark Leonard Hull, an icon in the field of psychology and arguably the foremost scholar on hypnosis during the 1920s and early ‘30s. Hull was a creative genius on the one hand, a demanding micromanager on the other. He was a prolific writer—a dream come true for someone like me, what with my insatiable yearning to get to know the people I’m writing about down deep. He penned everything from witty, gossipy letters to friends and colleagues, to thoughtful descriptions of his research and career goals in notebooks (he called them his “idea books”), to weighty manuscripts for publication filled with his experiments and theories. He believed in science, even if the science he was espousing at a particular moment wasn’t popular with his peers.
Hull experienced lifelong health issues, having contracted both typhoid fever and polio as a young man. He had memory troubles—people’s names mostly—due to the former, and he walked with a cane due to the latter. Nevertheless, his charisma could fill a lecture hall, and his students revered him. His thirst for knowledge was so relentless that in the last decade of his life, when his heart and kidneys were beginning to fail, he wrote: “I seem to have no fear of death but only anxiety to salvage as much from life in the way of systematic science as possible.” Now that’s a scientist whose footsteps are worth following.
Dr. Patten was the guy who gave the dominoes a tap. He’d studied under Hull as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1921 and, by the time he’d completed his master’s degree in 1923, also under Hull, he’d already been hired as an assistant professor at Miami.
St. Clair Adna Switzer, who had received his bachelor’s degree from Miami in 1928, had undoubtedly heard about the esteemed Clark Hull from Patten, and decided that he should learn from the master as well. He went on to become a student of Hull’s for both his master’s and doctoral degrees—the first at Wisconsin, and the second at Yale, after Hull had changed affiliations.
The third faculty member to have studied under Hull was Charles Theodore Perin, Jr.—Ted for short. Perin had attended Miami beginning in 1934 and had impressed Patten so much with his stratospheric entrance exam scores that he served as a student assistant in the psychology department for most of his time as an undergraduate. He’d been planning to attend the University of Rochester for graduate school, but those plans changed when another Miami graduate who’d received an assistantship with Hull had become ill. Hull asked Patten if he knew of anyone who could take that student’s place, and Patten gave him Perin’s name. Elated by the opportunity to study with one of the world’s most eminent psychologists, Perin pursued his master’s and Ph.D. degrees under Hull in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. (The student who had become ill was Douglas G. Ellson, who eventually completed his Ph.D. under Hull and later became a psychology professor at Indiana University.)
Clark Hull, a scientist who helped take the hype out of hypnosis
Despite his becoming an authority on the topic, Clark Hull’s foray into hypnosis was mostly a diversion. He’s best known for his contributions in such areas as aptitude testing and his theories on learning and behavior. Hull was a behaviorist, and he believed that the actions of humans and other mammals could be boiled down to a set of mathematical formulas, most of which had to do with conditioned responses to some sort of reward. For his lab rats, that reward would be a pellet in a food tray, but for humans, he theorized, it could be whatever meets a particular need. A cognitive psychologist would contend that behaviorists don’t give enough credit to what goes on inside the brain in influencing a person’s actions. We don’t need to wade into that debate here, though I will say this: every time my cat Herbie waits for my phone alarm to go off in the morning before sprinting to the kitchen to be fed—as opposed to his former practice of yowling like a wounded coyote hours before sun up—I thank Hull and his fellow behaviorists (Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, and the rest) for introducing classical conditioning to the world. For this pet owner, they are heroes, all.
The many faces of Herbie, a classically conditioned cat
According to his autobiography, Hull became involved in hypnosis when he was a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin after taking over the lecture portion of an introductory course for premed students. He did so because he believed “suggestion, hypnotic and otherwise,” was being practiced widely by the profession. He described the first time he ever hypnotized someone in this way:
“I had never seen a person hypnotized, though I had entreated Professor Jastrow [the original course instructor] to demonstrate the technique to me. A medical student had given me a ‘hypnotic crystal’ which he had secured by mail from England; but he could not hypnotize with it. Late one night a student suffering from a bad phobia came to my home pleading for hypnosis to ‘save his life.’ I brought out the ‘crystal’ and tried it on him as the books described the hypnotic technique, and to my surprise the man went into a deep trance almost at once. This was the beginning of a long series of experiments in the field.”
The “long series of experiments” would be dreamed up by Hull but carried out by his students, which was his normal way of doing things. Though Hull dressed the part of a laboratory scientist—he regularly wore a lab coat and green eyeshade when walking the corridors of the University of Wisconsin’s Bascom Hall—he was the idea man who tended to let others do the actual lab work. But Hull closely watched over his students and he encouraged them to publish their results as principal authors. Patten was one such beneficiary of Hull’s magnanimous mentoring style. Five years after completing his master’s degree at Wisconsin, he passed the baton to Switzer, who began his master’s program there in 1928.
Despite the stock market crash and sudden launch of the worst economic depression in the Western world, 1929 would be filled with promise and new beginnings for Hull, Patten, and Switzer. Hull had accepted a research appointment with Yale’s Institute of Psychology (which later merged with the Institute of Human Relations), drawn to its assurance of greater prestige and vast research opportunities. Switzer returned to Oxford, Ohio, as a freshly minted assistant professor. He was also a newlywed, having married Elizabeth Hezlep, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Cincinnati, five days before Christmas. Meanwhile, Patten had been putting the finishing touches on his dissertation, “The Duration of Post-Hypnotic Suggestion,” which earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
For at least the next several years, Switzer and Patten, who had also returned to Miami University, continued their collaborative relationship with Hull, corresponding with him frequently. In 1932, Switzer followed Hull to New Haven, Connecticut, to work on his doctoral degree in experimental psychology at the Institute of Human Relations.
It was also during that period—from the late 1920s to the early 1930s—that Hull set out to write the definitive book on hypnosis. Although he’d first become acquainted with the procedure by helping someone overcome a personal problem, he wasn’t interested in the clinical applications. Instead, he wanted to present the science behind hypnosis through experiments that were objective, observable, and quantifiable. As Hull put it, “the ends sought were principles and relationships rather than treatments and cures.” Hull wanted to more precisely define hypnosis—a state in which a person is highly responsive to suggestion—and its contributing factors. For example, researchers and practitioners had known that people are suggestible even when awake, although some are more suggestible than others. Hull and his students found that when a person is under hypnosis, he is at his peak in suggestibility—roughly twice as suggestible as in the waking state.
Hypnosis and Suggestibility—An Experimental Approach was published in 1933, and was largely based on the experiments that had been carried out by Hull’s students at the University of Wisconsin, with several add-ons. It’s now considered a classic, most recently reprinted in 2002.
Despite its adherence to science, the book’s success didn’t seem to impress Hull’s colleagues at Yale. According to a brief history on hypnosis written by Australian psychologist Campbell Perry, who passed away in 2003, one anecdote concerned one of Hull’s student assistants. That person had reportedly hypnotized another student—he didn’t say if it was a male or female—but failed to ensure the student was fully reawakened afterward. While crossing the street, the student who’d been hypnotized was supposedly hit by a car, which led to legal threats from his or her parents. The administration soon stepped in, terminating further hypnosis experiments and encouraging Hull to move on to other research areas. Hull, who had a number of other projects brewing in his brain, complied.
Besides, by the time the book was with the publisher, Hull didn’t seem to want to hear the word hypnosis ever again. On Sunday, June 4, 1933, Hull jotted down the following reflections in one of his idea books:
“Some weeks ago I finished the manuscript of the book on hypnosis. And while it is not yet in print and the index has yet to be made out, still the most of this work can be performed by my assistants and I may consider that project finished. It has been a most disagreeable task, particularly in its later stages, and I regret attempting to continue it when I came to New Haven. I should have dropped it on leaving Madison, and never breathed a word of its existence on coming to Yale. I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it. And when the book comes out it will probably be worse than ever. I believe, however that the book itself has been worth doing from the point of view of the advancement of science. I believe that it is an important contribution, that it may mark the beginning of a new epoch in that form of experimentation, and that it will be read and quoted for a long time, possibly a hundred years. At all events it probably will be read after the work of those here at Yale who have thrown obstacles in the way of the experimental work upon which it is based, has long been forgotten. But even if all this should take place, I have paid a high price and would hardly do it again.”
In his autobiographical essay, published the year he died in 1952, Hull credited Patten and Switzer with being especially helpful in the completion of his book on hypnosis. Patten had conducted several remaining experiments in Oxford, while Switzer, who was then Hull’s graduate assistant, helped with “final preparation,” a catch-all category for the invisible yet nit-picky tasks required to ready the book for the printer.
When Hull finally bowed out of hypnosis research, Patten and Switzer kept the fever alive. In November 1933, running on the heels of the release of Hypnosis and Suggestibility, an Associated Press article with an Oxford, Ohio, dateline extolled the virtues of hypnosis in curing all sorts of problems through posthypnotic suggestion—from overeating to stage fright to smoking. The article broadcast the names E.F. Patten and S. A. Switzer far and wide, which soon backfired in the form of a tsunami of letters from people seeking help for their myriad problems.
In December of that same year, a follow-up article appeared in newspapers by way of the International News Service, with a lead paragraph so academically cringeworthy, I’m sure both men considered calling in sick that day:
Weight Loss by Hypnotism Is Attracting Wide Attention
With the principal characters considerably nettled, the hypnotism “show” at Miami University here has reached a complicated and amusing stage.
According to the article, Patten was “irked by a flood of letters he has received” and had “retreated to his laboratory,” concerned that his university peers would think he was running a “quack sanitarium.”
Few records remain concerning additional hypnosis research that might have been conducted at Miami. After Patten passed away in 1966, his wife Fern wrote a history of the department, entitled Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, at the request of the new chairperson. Not everything she wrote was included in the final draft, however, and hypnosis was one of two unlucky chapters, along with several lengthy appendices, that would be given the heave ho. (The other chapter had to do with an early department chair who became mayor of Oxford for a couple years, a historical piece of trivia that even Fern admitted had nothing to do with the evolution of the psychology department.) The Foreword blamed “limitations of funds and space” for their exclusion, but promised: “These important segments, however, have been preserved in the Department files, and will no doubt be used by those who will study our history in the future.”
Sadly, those reassuring words turned out to be more uncertain than Mrs. Patten had anticipated. In 2014, and later in 2017, I emailed departmental representatives, letting them know that here I was, from the future, ready to peruse the hypnosis chapter that had supposedly been preserved in their files. Unfortunately, neither they nor University Archives could locate a copy. Dr. Patten’s daughter doesn’t have a copy either. What remains, on page 50, is a four-paragraph description of Patten’s time with Clark Hull, Patten’s and Switzer’s contributions to Hypnosis and Suggestibility, a sentence about Perin’s work helping “many troubled people in collaboration with local doctors,” and a list of Miami graduates who went on to study with Hull. (In addition to Switzer, Perin, and Ellson was a fourth person, Robert S. Sackett, who was an instructor at Rutgers before moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the Naval Research Laboratory, among other institutions.) No hypnosis studies conducted at Miami were included.
Here’s a copy of the publication in its entirety:
There were other things going on in Patten’s and Switzer’s careers in the 1930s as well. Patten was named chair of the psychology department in 1932, and he began transitioning from researcher to teacher-administrator. Switzer pursued his avid interests in standardized testing for aptitude and other attributes. He spent the summer of 1936 working as a psychologist at a model facility for prisoners known as the Northeastern Penitentiary, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (later renamed the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg).
When the United States entered WWII, Patten and Switzer joined in to help with the cause. Miami University had become the site of a U.S. Naval Radio Training School, and Patten, who had served as a radio operator during WWI, taught radio code to Naval trainees in Fisher Hall in between his psychology classes. Switzer, who, as a young man, had performed a two-year stint in the Navy, received a leave of absence from Miami in the summer of 1942 to enlist with the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), the forerunner to the U.S. Air Force (USAF). His expertise was in aptitude testing, and he gradually worked himself into the upper levels of responsibility in psychological testing, classification, and placement throughout the war. From July to November 1945, he was stationed at Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C.—the Pentagon—serving as chief of the Demobilization Procedures Section, which means that he, in his own words, “formulated and monitored Air Force demobilization procedures, and prepared regulations pertaining thereto, with special responsibility for separation counseling procedures.” (TRANSLATION: Sorry, military speak stymies me, but, by the sound of it, he was important in the areas of aptitude testing, job placement, and job classification during the war and job reassignment after the war. If someone out there knows better, feel free to chime in.)
Switzer’s activities during the post-War years continued to focus heavily on the military, even after he returned to Oxford in December 1945. In January 1946, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and he was employed by the federal government as chief vocational appraiser in the Veterans Administration Guidance Center, a resource based out of the university hospital for all veterans, particularly the thousands who had arrived at Miami on the G.I. Bill. In September 1949, he returned to teaching psychology full-time (with occasional stints with the Air Force), and, as we all know, he had been Ronald Tammen’s General Psychology instructor the semester that Ron went missing—before Ron had dropped the course. In 1961, Switzer was selected to replace Patten as department chair, and in his remaining five years at Miami, he’s credited with transitioning the department into offering a graduate program. He also laid the groundwork for moving the department from the ever-cramped and crumbling old Harrison Hall to a spacious, updated new building, Benton Hall, whose foundation was installed the year he retired. By all appearances, he seemed to have moved on from his time with the “hypnotism ‘show’ at Miami University.”
Dr. Patten hadn’t published a scientific paper since the early 1930s, however he continued hypnotizing students into the 1960s. One article from September 25, 1962**, (reprinted October 15, 1964**), detailed how he would use hypnosis to help students break unwanted habits such as smoking or nail-biting or to help with weight loss. Because he was venturing into medical treatment, the article offered this caveat: “since these cases may sometimes have deep seated emotional problems, the professor only accepts subjects at the request of doctors or psychiatrists.”
Patten also demonstrated hypnosis to his students during class. Patten’s daughter recalled sitting in on one of his abnormal psychology classes to watch her father hypnotize someone. She described it to me in this way:
It was a student that he worked with before. He had her look at a reflected light in his eye, and he said, “When I count to three, you will be hypnotized.” And then, he told her that when she named people in the class, she would name a particular person a different name. And also, after she woke up, she would ask [my father] for a pen, to write with. And it was fairly brief. Then he said, “When I count to three, you will wake up,” which she did. And he said, so and so—I can’t remember her name now—he said, “would you name the folks in the class?” It wasn’t a very big class. Which, she did, and for that one particular person, she had used the name he had given her, not the name of the person. So he asked, “Why did you do that?” And she said, “Well, that’s what I thought it was,” or something. And then she asked [my father] for a pen. And he said, “Well, why do you want a pen? How about a pencil?” And she insisted on getting a pen. And he asked her why. And she said, well, she just felt like she just had to have it. So, you know it was amazing really.
Perin’s research efforts in hypnosis were highlighted in an October 8, 1963**, article in the Miami Student. It told of how the psychology department had used funds from the National Science Foundation to purchase a polygraph machine, not to determine if someone was lying, but rather to measure a person’s physiological responses—heart rate, blood pressure, and the like—while he or she was in a trance. The photo is the most compelling part of the article, with a college coed named Nancy (who was also the article’s author) looking warily at Perin as he leaned in, asking stress-inducing questions such as how many classes she’d cut that week.
After Patten and Switzer retired—Patten in 1965 and Switzer in 1966—Perin single-handedly upheld Miami’s tradition in hypnotherapy and hypnosis research. In 1976, Dr. Perin retired, bringing Miami’s hypnosis era—a span of over 40 years—to a quiet close. By that time, the university appears to have been ready to move on from those days anyway.
For one thing, there’s that missing hypnosis chapter from Fern Patten’s book. For another, there was a taped interview between Perin and Karl Limper, a professor emeritus in geology who had been dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1959 to 1971, as well as acting provost for academic year 1964-65. During the interview, conducted as part of Miami’s Oral History archival project on February 25, 1992, Perin discussed his time at Miami as both student and professor. And each time that Perin attempted to discuss his hypnosis activities, Limper changed the subject as soon as the h-word was uttered.
Here’s the first time:
KL: Did the courses that you taught change through the years? Did you give some up and take others to replace them?
TP: Well, not a whole lot. I picked up the History of Psychology…some of the philosophical history, which I enjoyed very much because I had been exposed to that at great length at Yale.
KL: I would think so. Yes.
TP: And Patten had always taught that and later on he turned that over to me, and I taught Social Psych. Since I’m not much good as a sociologist or social psychologist, I did not enjoy that. I upgraded our Business Psychology course to a 400 level course.
KL: Oh, you did. Wonderful!
TP:…which I taught. And that was…I enjoyed that. And I even taught, for a couple of semesters, a course in Hypnosis for our graduate students.
KL: How many chairmen did you serve under? Can you list those?
Weird segue, don’t you think? I mean, was Perin even finished listing his courses? We’ll never know. And then there was this time, which came minutes later:
KL: Did you sense Lex [Milton, a former department chair] was one who wanted to move on to larger fields as quickly as possible?
TP: I think so.
KL: He was going to do everything he could for his department. He was a very demanding chairman, as far as the Dean was concerned.
TP: Well, of course, I couldn’t see that really…how demanding he was, I didn’t know, but…
KL: He was demanding for his faculty. I mean from the Dean’s point of view.
TP: Yeah. Yeah. Uh huh. I remember, one thing I resented, when Lex wanted me to cut down my hours of teaching, and I was enjoying teaching, and I…but he wanted me to cut back, so I’d have more time for research, and by that time, I was an old so and so—pretty far from research. But I’d gotten into this hypnosis area, and so I did do some meaningful research on hypnosis, and it was all right.
KL: What about the presidents under whom you served? You care to comment on any of those?
I don’t know about you, but speaking as a person who has conducted numerous interviews with university types, I would have let the man expound on that topic for a while. Something like “Such as?” springs to mind as a good follow-up question. But when Perin mentioned the word hypnosis, Limper first steered the conversation toward naming his former department chairmen, and, later, the university presidents under whom he’d served. Had someone said to him, “If Ted starts in on the hypnosis stuff, just change the subject”? Again, we’ll never know.
[For those interested, here are parts 1 and 2 of the complete interview transcript between Drs. Perin and Limper. The transcript includes Perin’s intriguing comments about St. Clair Switzer, which I report on in The ‘I&I’ guys.]
As I was learning more about Clark Hull and his cadre of disciples in Oxford, Ohio, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to wonder whether any of Miami’s experts might have been approached by the CIA as the agency was getting started with its hypnosis and drug experiments. It wasn’t even my main theory at that point. I just wondered. After I decided to work on my book project fulltime, I began conducting research at the National Archives in College Park, MD, searching through CIA documents to see if I might be able to find a connection. (This was before the nonprofit MuckRock had won its lawsuit forcing the CIA to post everything online instead of making people drive to College Park.) In July 2014, after spending a long day at the Archives, I was at home on my laptop, perusing CIA documents that had already been posted online. Several of my searches focused on what their hiring policy was regarding people who were gay but others focused on terms such as hypnosis or hypnotism or hypnotists.
And that’s when I happened on it, the first document that told me that at least one Miami University psych professor had likely been identified by the CIA as someone worth consulting during its ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA period. What’s more, the career path he’d pursued before becoming a psychology professor—one that I’d been aware of since I’d read the reason he went by the nickname “Doc” on page 39 of Fern Patten’s book—would make him especially attractive to the CIA. Because not only did this professor have expertise in hypnosis, he had a degree in pharmacy and had worked as a pharmacist for nearly two years. Could anyone have been better suited than he was?
**Note: These articles are currently not available online, otherwise I’d link to them. It’s my understanding that the university has recently completed a migration of its digital collections, so they may still be working out the kinks. I’m letting them know about the missing articles, and will include the links when they’re available.
As we’ve discussed, my plan is to release two documents on April 19 that I believe are related to what happened to Tammen. I’m planning some other fun stuff for that day too. Stay tuned.