Cajal and Hypnosis

Santiago Ramón y CajalSantiago Ramón y Cajal is best known for his Nobel Prize-winning work on the microstructure of the nervous system. However, less well-known is that early in his career, he experimented with hypnosis as a way of alleviating the pain associated with giving birth. He published a single article on the topic in 1889 in a Spanish-language journal. Now for the first time, that article has been translated into English and published in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. The accompanying commentary by a team of five authors led by Maria Stefanidou sets the article in its intellectual context and includes a number of fascinating photographs and other images from the period. The full article in available only to subscribers (check with your local library), but the abstract is copied here:

Spanish histologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, one of the most notable figures in Neuroscience, and winner, along with Camillo Golgi, of the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries on the structure of the nervous system, did not escape experimenting with some of the psychiatric techniques available at the time, mainly hypnotic suggestion, albeit briefly. While a physician in his thirties, Cajal published a short article under the title, “Pains of labour considerably attenuated by hypnotic suggestion” in Gaceta Médica Catalana. That study may be Cajal’s only documented case in the field of experimental psychology. We here provide an English translation of the original Spanish text, placing it historically within Cajal’s involvement with some of the key scientific and philosophical issues at the time.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.