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Thursday, August 21, 2008


Hypnosis (from the Greek hypnos, "sleep") is often thought to be "a trance-like state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject."[1]
The technique is sometimes used for medical purposes to relieve anxiety, or otherwise improve or alter behaviour. Its effectiveness has been clinically demonstrated in many areas, most notably in the area of acute pain relief. It is also used in popular stage acts in which subjects are persuaded to perform bizarre feats.

Other variations include so-called "mass-hypnosis," in which crowds are simultaneously influenced, and autosuggestion in which subjects persuade themselves. However, these phenomena are unlike those typically associated with the classical phenomena of hypnosis.


Although we can speak of a "history of hypnosis" prior to the 19th century, it should be clear that the word itself is the invention of 19th century Scottish physician James Braid. It is not clear if what is discussed as hypnosis prior to the 19th century in histories of hypnosis is actually what we mean today by "hypnosis." Early theories on hypnosis are due to Abbe Faria, a Goan priest.
Professor Charcot (left) of Paris' Salpêtrière demonstrates hypnosis on a "hysterical" patient, "Blanche" (Marie) Wittman, who is supported by Dr. Joseph Babiński.
During the Middle Ages and early modern period, hypnosis began to be better understood by physicians such as Avicenna[2] (Ibn Sina).

Franz Mesmer in the 1700's believed that there was a magnetic fluid that surrounds the body. He experimented with magnets to influence this field and so cause healing. He later found that the same effects could be created by waving the hands in front of someone's face. One of his students found that a person could be helped into a trance state by doing this. Franz Mesmer is apparently where the word mesmerize originated.

Methods and effects

General methods

Hypnotic susceptibility is the measurable responsiveness that a person has to hypnosis. About 10% of people are somnambulistic which is what a stage hypnotist looks for.[3][page # needed] There is little evidence linking susceptibility to intelligence or personality traits, but some research has linked hypnosis to the amount of imagination in subjects. Recent research suggests that highly hypnotizable people have high sensory and perceptual gating abilities that allow them to block some stimuli from awareness.[4]

General effects

Focused attention

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis's web site says "Hypnosis is a state of inner absorption, concentration and focused attention." You will have more acute senses while being hypnotized[6]


It often appears as if the hypnotized participant accepts the authority of the hypnotist over his or her own experience. When asked after the conclusion of such a session, some participants claim to be genuinely unable to recall the incident, while others say that they had known the hypnotist was wrong, but, at the time, it had seemed easier just to go along with his instructions. (Richard Feynman describes this, in his memoir Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, as his own hypnotic experience.)[7]

Depth of hypnosis

Pupillary reflex

The esoteric publication Hypnotism, by Danish hypnotist Carl Septus, is an early reference work that notes the absence of the pupillary reflex sign. Septus states specifically that after subjects have been asked to open their eyes during a deep trance, light shone into the eyes does not cause pupil contraction. The hypnotist may use suggestion to keep the subject in hypnosis, but must avoid suggestions relating to eyes, visual focus, light, or the dilation or contraction of the pupils.[8][page # needed]



Hypnotherapy is a term to describe the use of hypnosis in a therapeutic context. Many hypnotherapists refer to their practice as "clinical work". Hypnotherapy can either be used as an addition to the work of licensed physicians or psychologists, or it can be used in a stand-alone environment where the hypnotherapist in question usually owns his or her own business. The majority of these stand-alone certified hypnotherapists (C.Hts in the U.S., Diploma. Hyp or DHP in the UK) today earn a large portion of their income through the cessation of smoking (often in a single session) and the aid of weight loss (body sculpting) and possibly anorexia[citation needed]. Psychologists and psychiatrists use hypnosis predominantly for the treatment of dissociative disorders, phobias, habit change, depression and post-traumatic syndromes.[9][page # needed] There is no evidence that 'incurable' diseases (such as cancer, diabetes, and arthritis) are curable with hypnosis, but pain and other bodily symptoms related to the diseases are controllable.[10][11][12][13] Some of the treatments practiced by hypnotherapists, in particular so-called regression, have been viewed with skepticism.[14]

The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have both cautioned against the use of repressed memory therapy in dealing with cases of alleged childhood trauma, stating that "it is impossible, without other corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one",[15] and so the procedure is "fraught with problems of potential misapplication".[16]

Medicine and dentistry


In a lecture to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) during their annual conference at the State University Of New York, Dr. Milton Erickson taught the process of indirect hypnosis, while Dr. Robert W. Habbick spoke of his research on the use of hypnosis in enhancing learning, and reducing anxiety. Dr. Habbick explained the use of a triad of suggestions: "(a) enhancing confidence, while (b) strengthening focussed interest in the work and (c) improving energy to do the sjbjkbjbkjbjtudying necessary." The results of his controlled research pointed the way toward the need to apply hypnosis especially with students who have difficulty studying. In a more recent lecture, Dr. Habbick spoke in Boston to ASCH of the positive effects of using his suggested hypnosis triad with students at the Bureau of Study Council at Harvard University.[citation needed]


Hypnodermatology is the practice of treating skin diseases with hypnosis.


A study done at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine looked at two groups of patients facing surgery for breast cancer. The group that received hypnosis prior to surgery reported less pain, nausea, and anxiety after surgery than did the control group. There was a cost benefit as well, as the average hypnosis patient reduced the cost of treatment by an average of $772.00.[17]

In April 2008 a professional hypnotist, Alex Lenkei, successfully hypnotised himself before having surgery on his hand and was in no pain throughout the 80 minute operation. His blood pressure and heart rate were also monitored and remained normal, indicating that he was not experiencing any pain. An anaesthetist who remained on hand believes Mr Lenkei's body may have released chemicals which blocked pain.[18][19]

Other uses

Michael R. Nash writes, in a July 2001 article for Scientific American titled "The Truth and the Hype of Hypnosis", "using hypnosis, scientists have temporarily created hallucinations, compulsions, certain types of memory loss, false memories, and delusions in the laboratory so that these phenomena can be studied in a controlled environment."[20]

In his book The Hidden Persuaders (1957) Vance Packard describes research involving the behaviour of housewives in supermarkets in the 1950s. Cameras were hidden to measure a shopper's eye-blink rate as she compared items. It was assumed that her eye-blink rate would increase as she performed mental calculations to determine which product was the best value. In fact, the cameras recorded an eye-blink rate which indicated that the housewife was, according to Packard, usually in a hypnotic state while shopping. This led manufacturers to produce new brands of laundry detergent in competition with their own, existing brands, where the primary differences were in the product names, colours and shapes of designs on the packages, which were designed to appeal to women at different times of their menstrual cycles. The effects of this research can be noted today by visiting the laundry detergent section of any American supermarket.[21][page # needed]

Hypnotism has also received publicity about its use in Forensics, Sports, Education, and physical therapy and rehabilitation.[22]


Though various conjectures are made about hypnosis, the field has received significant support from the science-oriented psychology community due to research into hypnotic phenomena conducted by practitioners and theorists (Sala 1999). Both Heap and Dryden (1991) and Ambrose and Newbold (1980) consider that the theoretical debates on hypnotherapy have been productive, and that hypnosis has benefited from the attentions of those involved in the controversies, and conversely, that the developments of neurolinguistic programming and neo-Ericksonian hypnosis has been characterized by gullibility and fraudulence.

Social constructionism

Social constructionism and role-playing theory of hypnosis, discovered by Jun Zhou in the early 18th century,[23] suggests that individuals are playing a role and that really there is no such thing as hypnosis. A relationship is built depending on how much rapport has been established between the "hypnotist" and the subject (see Hawthorne effect, Pygmalion effect, and placebo effect).

Some psychologists, such as Robert Baker and Graham Wagstaff, claim that what we call hypnosis is actually a form of learned social behaviour, a complex hybrid of social compliance, relaxation, and suggestibility that can account for many esoteric behavioral manifestations.[24]

Nicholas Spanos states, "hypnotic procedures influence behaviour indirectly by altering subjects' motivations, expectations and interpretations."[25][page # needed]


Pierre Janet originally developed the idea of dissociation of consciousness as a result of his work with hysterical patients. He believed that hypnosis was an example of dissociation, whereby areas of an individual's behavioural control are split off from ordinary awareness. Hypnosis would remove some control from the conscious mind, and the individual would respond with autonomic, reflexive behaviour. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as "dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place."[26][page # needed]


Anna Gosline says in a article:

"Gruzelier and his colleagues studied brain activity using an fMRI while subjects completed a standard cognitive exercise, called the Stroop task.

The team screened subjects before the study and chose 12 that were highly susceptible to hypnosis and 12 with low susceptibility. They all completed the task in the fMRI under normal conditions and then again under hypnosis.

Throughout the study, both groups were consistent in their task results, achieving similar scores regardless of their mental state. During their first task session, before hypnosis, there were no significant differences in brain activity between the groups.

But under hypnosis, Gruzelier found that the highly susceptible subjects showed significantly more brain activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus than the weakly susceptible subjects. This area of the brain has been shown to respond to errors and evaluate emotional outcomes.

The highly susceptible group also showed much greater brain activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex than the weakly susceptible group. This is an area involved with higher level cognitive processing and behaviour."[27]

Conditioned process

Ivan Pavlov believed that hypnosis was a "partial sleep". He observed that the various degrees of hypnosis did not significantly differ physiologically from the waking state and hypnosis depended on insignificant changes of environmental stimuli. Pavlov also suggested that lower-brain-stem mechanisms were involved in hypnotic conditioning.[28][page # needed][29]


Currently a more popular "hyper-suggestibility theory" states that the subject focuses attention by responding to the hypnotist's suggestion. As attention is focussed and magnified, the hypnotist's words are gradually accepted, without the subject conducting any conscious censorship of what is being said. This is not unlike the athlete listening to the coach's last pieces of advice minutes before an important sport event; concentration filters out all that is unimportant, and magnifies what is said about what really matters to the subject.[30]


An approach loosely based on Information theory uses a brain-as-computer model. In adaptive systems, a system may use feedback to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, which may converge towards a steady state. Increasing the signal-to-noise ratio enables messages to be more clearly received from a source. The hypnotist's object is to use techniques to reduce the interference and increase the receptability of specific messages (suggestions).[31]


Systems theory, in this context, may be regarded as an extension of James Braid's original conceptualization of hypnosis[32][page # needed] as involving a process of enhancing or depressing the activity of the nervous system. Systems theory considers the nervous system's organization into interacting subsystems. Hypnotic phenomena thus involve not only increased or decreased activity of particular subsystems, but also their interaction. A central phenomenon in this regard is that of feedback loops, familiar to systems theory, which suggest a mechanism for creating the more extreme hypnotic phenomena.[33][34]


A peer-reviewed article on the University of Maryland Medical Center's web site says: "Although studies on hypnosis as a treatment for obesity are not conclusive, most research suggests that hypnotherapy (when used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and a low-fat diet) may help overweight or obese individuals lose weight."[35]

Clinical studies

In 1996, the National Institutes of Health technology assessment panel judged hypnosis to be an effective intervention for alleviating pain from cancer and other chronic conditions. A large number of clinical studies also indicate that hypnosis can reduce the acute pain experienced by patients undergoing burn-wound debridement, enduring bone marrow aspirations, and childbirth. An analysis published in a recent issue the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, for example, found that hypnotic suggestions relieved the pain of 75% of 933 subjects participating in 27 different experiments.[20]

Brain imaging

One controlled scientific experiment postulates that hypnosis may alter our perception of conscious experience in a way not possible when people are not "hypnotized", at least in "highly hypnotizable" people. In this experiment, color perception was changed by hypnosis in "highly hypnotizable" people as determined by positron emission tomography (PET) scans (Kosslyn et al., 2000).

Another research example, employing event-related functional MRI (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) coherence measures, compared certain specific neural activity "...during Stroop task performance between participants of low and high hypnotic susceptibility, at baseline and after hypnotic induction". According to its authors, "the fMRI data revealed that conflict-related ACC activity interacted with hypnosis and hypnotic susceptibility, in that highly susceptible participants displayed increased conflict-related neural activity in the hypnosis condition compared to baseline, as well as with respect to subjects with low susceptibility." (Egner et al., 2005)

Michael Nash said in a Scientific American article: "In 1998 Henry Szechtman of McMaster University in Ontario and his co-workers used PET to image the brain activity of hypnotized subjects who were invited to imagine a scenario and who then experienced a hallucination ... By monitoring regional blood flow in areas activated during both hearing and auditory hallucination but not during simple imagining, the investigators sought to determine where in the brain a hallucinated sound is mistakenly "tagged" as authentic and originating in the outside world. Szechtman and his colleagues imaged the brain activity of eight very hypnotizable subjects who had been prescreened for their ability to hallucinate under hypnosis ... The tests showed that a region of the brain called the right anterior cingulate cortex was just as active while the volunteers were hallucinating as it was while they were actually hearing the stimulus. In contrast, that brain area was not active while the subjects were imagining that they heard the stimulus."[20]



Self-hypnosis (or autosuggestion) — is hypnosis in which a person hypnotizes himself or herself without the assistance of another person to serve as the hypnotist — is a staple of hypnotherapy-related self-help programs. It is most often used to help the self-hypnotist stay on a diet, overcome smoking or some other addiction, or to generally boost the hypnotized person's self-esteem. It is rarely used for the more complex or controversial uses of hypnosis, which require the hypnotist to monitor the hypnotized person's reactions and responses and respond accordingly. Most people who practice self-hypnosis require a focus in order to become fully hypnotized; there are many computer programs on the market that can ostensibly help in this area, though few, if any, have been scientifically proven to aid self-hypnosis.

Some people use devices known as mind machines to help them go into self-hypnosis more readily. A mind machine consists of glasses with different colored flashing LEDs on the inside, and headphones. The LEDs stimulate the visual channel, while the headphones stimulate the audio channel with similar or slightly different frequencies designed to produce a certain mental state. The use of binaural beats in the audio is common; it is said to produce hypnosis more readily.

Self-hypnosis is a skill that can be improved as time goes by. People use techniques such as imagining walking down 10 steps, feeling deeper relaxed as they imagine slowly walking down each step, one at a time. It is a good idea to initially seek the skills of a practicing hypnotherapist in order to understand what it feels like to be in a hypnotic trance. This greatly helps, as the individual can aim to replicate this state. Alternatively, a person may wish to use hypnosis recordings instead.

Waking hypnosis

This phenomenon, as expounded by Melvin Powers in 1955, involves altering the behavior of a subject by suggestion without inducing a trance. Related to the placebo effect, a subject becomes subconsciously convinced that what they are being told is inevitable reality, for example that the air in the room will cause them to swallow. They can be convinced that a completely benign substance is actually a drug that will induce whatever effect is suggested. In order to work, the subject must completely trust the source of the suggestion or be subconsciously convinced by a calm authoritative tone.[citation needed]

Mass application

Influencing crowds through common longings and yearnings by a demagogue is called mass hypnosis. Generally, mass hypnosis is applied to religious sessions. Many forms of music and dance can be used to create religious trance.[36]

Indirect application

In addition to direct application of hypnosis (that is, treatment of conditions by means of hypnosis), there is also indirect application, wherein hypnosis is used to facilitate another procedure. Some people seem more able to display "enhanced functioning", such as the suppression of pain, while utilizing hypnosis.

Post-hypnotic suggestion

Main article: Post-hypnotic suggestion

Robin Waterfield writes, in his 2002 book Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis, "a person can act, some time later, on a suggestion seeded during the hypnotic session. Post-hypnotic suggestions can last for a long time. A hypnotherapist told one of his patients, who was also a friend: 'When I touch you on the finger you will immediately be hypnotized.' Fourteen years later, at a dinner party, he touched him deliberately on the finger and his head fell back against the chair."[37]

Potential dangers

Pratt et al., write, in their 1988 book A Clinical Hypnosis Primer, "A hypnotized patient will respond to a suggestion literally. A suggestion that requires conscious interpretation can have undesirable effects." They give the following report taken from Hartland, 1971, p.37: "A patient who was terrified to go into the street because of the traffic was once told by a hypnotist that when she left his room, she would no longer bother about the traffic and would be able to cross the road without the slightest fear. She obeyed his instructions so literally that she ended up in a hospital."[38]

They also mention:

From Kleinhauz and Beran, 1984:

In one case, a woman had experienced 10 years of fatigue, irritability, and periods of childish behaviour during which her perceptions were distorted. The source of the problem was traced back to a stage performance 10 years earlier, when she was regressed to a traumatic period of her life.

From Kleinhauz and Eli, 1987:

In one case, a dentist using hypnorelaxation with a patient complied with her request to provide direction suggestions to stop smoking. The patient's underlying psychological conflicts, which the dentist was not qualified to assess, led to the development of an anxiety/depressive reaction.

From Machovec, 1987:

A woman undergoing psychotherapy facilitated by hypnosis attempted to use the procedures she had learned to relieve her husband's dental pain. During the deepening technique of arm levitation, her husband's fingertips 'stuck' to his head, and a therapist had to intervene to end the trance state."[39]

Extreme reactions

Subjects have been known to cry or suffer a mental breakdown after extended periods of being in a trance like state of mind.[citation needed]

False memory

False memory obtained via hypnosis has figured prominently in many investigations and court cases, including cases of alleged sexual abuse. There is no scientific way to prove that any of these recollections are completely accurate.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have both cautioned against the use of repressed memory therapy in dealing with cases of alleged childhood trauma, stating that "it is impossible, without other corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one",[15] and so the procedure is "fraught with problems of potential misapplication".[16]



Some believe that hypnosis is a form of mind control and/or brainwashing that can control a person's behavior and judgment and therefore could potentially cause them harm. These beliefs are not generally based on scientific evidence, as there is no scientific consensus on whether mind control even exists. But there are people interested in research and funding to help work on controlling others and perfecting mind control techniques. These techniques can be researched with the scientific method and reasoning skills.[40][41]

Unconscious state

From the mental standpoint, a hypnotic subject is relaxed yet alert and always aware at some level. Some choose to think of this as a state of mind called "trance".[42]


Due to the popular but incorrect notion of hypnosis as mind control, some people believe that the ability to experience hypnosis is related to strength and soundness of mind. However, scientists note that personality traits such as gullibility or submissiveness or factors such as low intelligence are not related to hypnotize-ability. Research studies suggest that none of intelligence, gender, or personality traits (ref: below ...overactive imagination...) affect responsiveness to hypnosis and that hypnotize-ability may in fact be hereditary or genetic in nature.[20]

Overactive imagination

Another misconception in popular culture is that hypnosis is often the product of vivid imaginations and that hypnotic phenomena are merely imagined in the mind. However, research indicates many imaginative people do not fare well as good hypnotic subjects. Furthermore, studies using PET scans have shown that hypnotized subjects suggested to have auditory hallucinations demonstrated regional blood flow in the same areas of the brain as real hearing, whereas subjects merely imagining hearing noise did not.[20]

Instant Induction

It is a misconception that induction into hypnosis is time-consuming and requires complete relaxation. Hypnosis through lengthy relaxation or visual experiences is the most common form of induction, but instant inductions (2-10 seconds) is a method for induction or re-induction among stage hypnotists, as well as clinical hypnotists seeking to manage trauma or overcome anxiety and resistance. Authors John Cerbone and Richard Nongard refer to this phenomena as Speed-Trance, noting it is possible to hypnotize a subject in just a few seconds by causing confusion, loss of equilibrium, misdirection, shock, or eye fixation. However, the duration of time it takes to induce hypnosis does not always take into consideration the depth of trance that is secured.


Stage hypnosis

The hypnotist

Due to the stage hypnotist's showmanship and their perpetuating the illusion of possessing mysterious abilities, hypnosis is often seen as caused by the hypnotist's power. The real power of hypnosis comes from the trust the hypnotist can instil in his subjects. They have to willingly grant him the ability to take over their critical thinking and direct their bodies. Some people are very trusting, or even looking for an excuse to abdicate their responsibilities and are able to be hypnotized within seconds, while others take more time to counter their fears.[43]

The subject

In a stage hypnosis situation the hypnotist chooses his participants carefully. First he gives the entire audience a few exercises to perform and plants ideas in their minds, such as:

* only intelligent people can be hypnotized
* only those wanting to have fun will play along.

These suggestions are designed to overcome the natural fear of trusting a stranger with the greater fear of being seen as unintelligent, unsociable, and joyless by the rest of the audience.

Out of the crowd he will spot people who appear trusting, extroverted and willing to put on a show. Often these people are looking for an excuse to do something they otherwise would not do sober. The hypnotist starts them off by having them imagine ordinary situations that they have likely encountered, like being cold or hot, hungry or thirsty then gradually builds to giving them a suggestion that is totally out of character, such as sing like Elvis.

The desire to be the center of attention, having an excuse to violate their own inner fear suppressors and the pressure to please, plus the expectation of the audience wanting them to provide some entertainment is usually enough to persuade an extrovert to do almost anything. In other words the participants are persuaded to 'play along'.

This gives the impression that the hypnotist has total control over them.[44]

Hypnosis in popular media

Main article: Hypnosis in popular culture

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are common themes in literature, films and television. Frequently hypnotists are shown in a negative or sinister light.[45] In The Manchurian Candidate and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, for example, characters are compelled to commit crimes while under a hypnotic trance. Many popular figures in the media, such as Dr. Phil and Tyra Banks, have denounced hypnotism saying it is "crude" and "not believable"[citation needed]. These remarks have been ignored for the most part by the majority[citation needed], because many believed that they were just trying to cause controversy for publicity