I recently read the book, Violent Mind, The 1976 Psychological Assessment of Ted Bundy" : Dr. Al Carlisle.

In the book Dr. Carlisle mentions that Ted Bundy went into trance like states during his killing sprees. Bundy would later explain that he couldn't recall specific details of his killings and how he would feel instant remorse thereafter. Bundy went on say that even though he felt remorseful and disturbed for what he did, he would repeat the same violent patterns, killing more.

I found it fascinating how the brain can go into these trance like states for some of these killers, as if it overrides their cognitive empathy, guilt.

I am looking for a scientific term similar to "trance".

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome. What would be unscientific about trance? scientific = based on or characterized by the methods and principles of science;. Science = the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. What is scientific trance? Or is it the phenomenon of trance that you question itself? $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ I am looking for a term commonly used in scientific articles /journals that is equal to the definition of trance. I can't recall but I believe there are some synonyms for trance in psychology . $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 18:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ From a quick google search, "trance" usually refers to hypnotic trance, and the diminished recall seems to fit the (spontaneous variant of) posthypnotic amnesia, so like Alice said, the choice of words seems good enough even though it might not be the exact same phenomenon. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ if you're simply looking for synonyms, "state of flow" might do, but it doesn't entail amnesia. It's hard to study serial killers rigorously due to the small sample, so if you expect to find more papers by a keyword... you'll probably have an easier time just going for what describes the subjects (serial killers) rather than what describes some putative process that goes in [some of] their minds... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 19:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the term you are looking for is dissociation $\endgroup$
    – Jordan
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


The hypothesis

The idea that

Ted Bundy went into trance like states during his killing sprees

is an anecdotal observation which can be true or it may be false. If we are to be considering it to be true, you could say that what is being described is a severe pathological form of dissociation or compartmentalisation.

I covered the idea of compartmentalisation in a totally unrelated question whereby;

Compartmentalisation is often employed, for example, by people within the emergency services (fire officers, paramedics, police officers, coastguard etc.) in order for them to concentrate on the immediate task whilst temporarily isolating themselves from their emotions.

Compartmentalisation is a form of dissociation in a sense because dissociation is a psychological defence mechanism (Cardeña, 1994) which helps the person to get through the situation with as little harm as possible. The difference between compartmentalisation and dissociation is that when you are compartmentalising, you are very much aware of what you are doing.

So in conclusion

What is being described fits the description of dissociation but it would have to be a severe pathological form of dissociation.

If Ted Bundy did have real empathy, dissociation would have helped him to disconnect from conscious reasoning and empathy with what he was doing. During the state of dissociation, you can appear to be in a trance because you are "throwing a switch on conscious awareness" so that you cannot connect with the event alone at any time after the event.


Cardeña, E. (1994) The domain of dissociation. In: Dissociation: Clinical and theoretical aspects, Edited by: Lynn, S. J. and Rhue, J. W. 5–31. New York, NY: Guildford Press.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.