Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, in which the subject is more susceptible to suggestions and is more receptive to direction. The image of a man hypnotizing a person by slowly swinging a pocket watch and saying the words “You are getting very sleeepy” will always be the popular depiction of hypnotism, but it is, in fact, very inaccurate and has brought with it, a plethora of myths, that this article should lay to rest for you.
What is hypnosis?
“Hypnosis is characterized by highly focused attention, increased responsiveness to suggestions, vivid images and fantasies, and a willingness to accept distortions of logic or reality.” (Ernest Hilgard, 1986)Dr. Hilgard, was a highly acclaimed psychologist and a pioneer in the study of hypnosis, much of what we know of hypnosis, is from his studies. Notice in his definition that the words ‘sleeplike trance’ and ‘lose control of their actions’ never come up. This is because the hypnotized person is aware of where they are, who they are, and what is happening around them.
When a person is being hypnotized, the hypnotist doesn’t have a pocket watch or any instrument, he uses a calm, monotonous tone and simply guides the individual through the hypnosis. Often times, a person who was once hypnotized, is able to self-induce hypnosis, without the need of any outside help.
A person cannot be hypnotized against his or her will and it cannot make the person perform acts that are against the person’s morals or values. Since this is the case, a person would not commit criminal or immoral acts under hypnosis. The hypnotist will give suggestions, most commonly they will be little things that the person will have no problem doing, however, if the hypnotist suggested that the woman he is hypnotizing, take off her shirt and quake like a duck, she, being a respectable and dignified woman, would refuse the command and will snap out of the ‘trance’. Since hypnotism is a voluntary action, one should approach it open-mindedly and with a belief in hypnosis, it would play an important role in the experience.
Not everyone can be hypnotized, roughly ten percent of the adult population is either extremely difficult or impossible to hypnotize. The majority of adult have a mediocre susceptibility to hypnosis, while fifteen percent are easily susceptible. Children are even more susceptible to hypnosis, only children older than five are able to be hypnotized. A good quality of a hypnosis subject is an ability to become deeply involved in a work of fiction or their own imagination.
Effects of Hypnosis
Normally, the hypnotized will converse normally and have complete recollection of the event. Occasionally, deeply hypnotized people, will mention feelings of detachment, profound relaxation, or sensations of timelessness. It is not uncommon for people to state that the hypnotists suggestions seemed to happen on their own, automatically.
- Sensory and perceptual changes
A highly susceptible person could experience temporary deafness, blindness, or numbness of a body part. This is only if the hypnotist suggests this. This is practiced during medical procedures and is often used as an anesthetic. A hypnotist can induce hallucinations, by suggesting that a friend or loved one is in the room, even if he or she is not. The hypnotized not only will see this person, but can hear, smell, and touch the person. Conversely, the hypnotist could make something ‘disappear’, by suggesting that something is not there.
Hypnosis can affect you after the session. Posthypnotic suggestions, are suggestions given that a person is given that will remain with the person after the hypnotism. Evidence of this is shown in a study, when it was suggested to a hypnotized college student that the number five did not exist. Later, when he was asked to count his fingers, he counted eleven. A few minutes later, he counted again and couldn’t explain his earlier result. These suggestions typically last only a few hours or a day, but have been known to last a few months, but no posthypnotic suggestion is permanent.
Posthypnotic amnesia, is the suggestion by a hypnotist to forget forget specific information. This can be something as simple as their address, or as complex as a recent memory. Posthypnotic amnesia is typically temporary, and reverses spontaneously. The opposite, hypermnesia, is also possible. Hypermnesia is the increase in recall of past events, often practiced in criminal investigations.
Hypnosis does not increase the accuracy of a person’s memory, in fact, hypnosis could inspire a false confidence in an incorrect memory. False memories could accidentally be created through hypnosis.
Explanations of hypnosis
Dr. Ernest R. Hilgard, was a firm believer and advocate of dissociation, the splitting of consciousness into streams of thought. According to his neodissociation theory of hypnosis, a person consciously experiences the stream of thought that the responds to the hypnosis. There is also a second stream, that operating hidden from the hypnotized, this is known as the hidden observer. These findings do not mean that the hypnotized has multiple personalities.
Not everyone agrees with Dr.Hilgard’s theory that hypnosis is a special state of mind. Many believe that the hypnotized person behaves the way he or she is expected to act. That they don’t feel pain, because they believe that they aren’t supposed to feel pain. They believe that the mind is being fooled and behaves the way they believe a hypnotized person should behave.
Don H. Hockenbury, Sandra E. Hockenbury, Psychology 5th edition, Worth Publishers, 2010
Ernest R. Hilgard, Divided Consciousness: Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action, New York: Wiley, 1986