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Meredith Alexander, News Service (650) 725-0224; e-mail

Psychologist Ernest R. Hilgard, hypnosis pioneer, dead at 97

Ernest R. "Jack" Hilgard, professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, 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.

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.

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.


By Meredith Alexander

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