Monday, December 27, 2010

Demystification Monday: Fun with Hypnosis

You are gettting sleepy ... oh, wait. Maybe I should put this at the end of the post ...

Hypnosis occurs when Person 1 is guided by Person 2 to respond to suggestions. The suggestions usually involve Person 1 experiencing a change in sensation, perception, thought, or behavior. A person can do self-hypnosis as well.

There are a lot of misconceptions about hypnosis. The biggest one: Hypnosis is an unconscious state. Like being asleep.

Nope. Brain scan research shows that hypnotized people are totally awake. Contrary to how it's commonly portrayed in movies, hypnotized people can and do resist hypnotic suggestions, especially when asked to do things that are extreme or out of character. In reality, people under hypnosis are more in a state of heightened concentration but are still in complete control of themselves.

Some people are more suggestible than others. There are actually some procedures to test how suggestible people are. When I was in college and taking a clinical psychology course, my professor actually administered one to the class.

In this test, someone instructs you to stare at a spot on the wall and takes you through some relaxing techniques. And I swear, it does involve telling you that you feel really sleepy! They also make sure to tell you that you can only be hypnotized if you want to be.

When my professor tried to test our suggestibility, I really attempted to get into the spirit of the thing, even though I am a nasty, horrible skeptic (don't tell me something's true unless you want me to ask you HOW you know). She instructed us to try a bunch of things, like imagining our arms were really heavy or stiff. The funniest one was when she told us to imagine there was a mosquito buzzing around the room and landing on our hands. Someone next to me slapped her own hand so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. It was hilarious (sometimes I am a bad person).

In hypnosis stage acts, the entertainer uses a lot of techniques to 1) look for a really suggestible audience member and 2) play a lot of little verbal tricks to make it look like the hypnosis is working (they also sometimes just tell the person that they're going to help play a trick on the audience and to go along with the joke). Don't get that confused with the real deal.

Research has shown that hypnosis (hypnotherapy) can be effective in pain management, weight loss, and stress control. Also, can help with some sexual conditions! Woohoo! Ahem. Sorry.

What about retrieving lost memories??? Dun-dun-dun. You know, like using hypnosis to help someone figure out if she was abused as a child? Well, research shows that hypnosis does NOT help improve the accuracy of a memory--but it does increase a person's confidence in the truth of inaccurate memories!

Anyone seen that movie The Fourth Kind? Some hypnotherapists were totally ticked about that movie, which is about a hypnotherapist helping people retrieve memories of alien abductions. At this point, there's quite a bit of research to suggest that trying to dig up memories this way is pretty risky and untrustworthy.

If you're writing about mind control or hypnosis in a paranormal or fantastical sense, go to town. Get crazy. Give the vampire swirly eyes and make your hero to wild, unimagined things while in the grips of hypnosis.

If you're writing contemporary, at least go to Wikipedia and look up hypnosis and, if relevant, false memories, because the real world is a lot more complicated.

Have any of you been hypnotized? What was it like?


  1. I went to see Reveen (big haired Canadian hypnotist with very high waisted pants) when I was a younger and twice went up on stage. Tried so hard to focus because I thought it would be fun (and I like being the center of attention). But no go. I think I really didn't want to have anyone else pulling my strings.

  2. Extremely fascinating stuff. Did your professor tell you if there were commonly identifiable traits that indicate someone's level of susceptibility? I remember my psych professor telling us that the students who chose desks on the (stage) right side of the room tended to be more susceptible than those sitting on the other side. I wondered, and still do, if that was actually true.

  3. first of all- the fourth kind!!! so stinkin' scary!!!
    and second- the likelihood of messing with memories... that is the reason i have never- nor ever want to- be hypnotized!
    eeks! :)

  4. I've been hypnotized in a stage act in Nevada once. It was wild! I knew what I was doing -- he hypnotized me to think I was getting drunker and drunker, and to the audience I was a laugh riot. I wasn't drunk but I FELT drunk. I was in complete control of myself the whole time until he told me the audience was naked and I had to look at them. I couldn't, because it was something I would never do in real life.

    And believe it or not, out of all the millions of memories I have of my life, that one is the one I remember with the most clarity. I can take you step by step through the whole act.

    For the right person, hypnotizm can be a very good tool.

  5. Kirstin and Anne--thanks so much for commenting! It goes to show how much control the individual person has over whether or not hypnosis works. Anne, you're right--research shows that there are benefits to hypnotherapy when it's applied to specific issues (weight loss and stress management, for example) and that being hypnotized is really a heightened state of concentration and focus. What a cool example!

    Sarah--I don't know about tiny characteristics like the one you mentioned, but highly suggestible people are more vulnerable to dissociative symptoms in the face of trauma.

    aspiring_x--you have to want to be hypnotized, so if you don't (we have that in common!), then no worries! I do plan to do a post on false memories in the future because it's such a fascinating topic.

  6. It's never worked for me (control issues here), though it is fun to watch others go through it. I do like yoga. Wonder what that's all about?

  7. Never been hypnotized because I don't want to ever be hypnotized, and since you have to be willing for it to really work... I HAVE seen other people though, and some of them were totally into it!