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Nicholas Spanos states "hypnotic procedures influence behavior indirectly by altering subjects' motivations, expectations and interpretations" and hypothesized that the behaviors associated with hypnosis are acted out knowingly by the person. He alleged that there are two reasons that cause people to misconstrue their state of consciousness as hypnosis. One of the reasons being that people believe that their behavior is caused by an external source instead of the self. The second is related to the way hypnotic rituals are performed. The hypnotist says certain things which are first interpreted as voluntary and then later on in the procedure as involuntary. An example being "relax the muscles in your legs" and then later "your legs feel limp and heavy".

Much experimental work has demonstrated that the experiences of supposedly hypnotized subjects can be dramatically shaped by expectations and social nuances. In short, individuals are choosing to act out a role and experiencing effects based on their
Hypnosis is a trance-like state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject. Some supposed hypnotic indicators and subjective changes can be achieved without relaxation or a lengthy induction by means of simple suggestion or waking hypnosis, a fact that increases the controversy and misunderstandings around hypnosis and the hypnotic state.

History of hypnosis

Hypnosis is a controversial topic, as many researchers think that there is really no such thing. There is some history dating back at least to the 1700s of the use of mentalism and other methods some of which are now labelled as 'hypnosis'. The first recognizable practitioner of hypnosis was Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician of the 18th-century. Abbe Faria was the first man who attempted to use the power of suggestion to cure illnesses. He was eventually discredited but his followers continued to hypnotise people with his techniques.

The term hypnosis came from a Scottish physician, James Braid, who used the Greek word for sleep to create the term. James Esdale a Scottish physician in India used hypnosis as a surgical anesthetic. Modern research however indicates that in these
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The following theories are presented:

Alpha- and theta-state theories

Through data collected by electroencephalography (EEGs), four major brain-wave patterns—frequency of electrical impulses firing from the brain—have been identified. The beta state (alert/working) is defined as 14–32 Hz, the alpha state (relaxed/reflecting) as the 7–14 Hz, the theta state (visual imagery) as 4–7 Hz, and the delta state (sleeping/dreaming/deep sleep) as approximately 3–5 Hz.
One physiological definition of hypnosis states that the brainwave level is not necessary to work on issues such as stopping smoking, managing weight, reducing phobias, improving athletic performance, etc., is the alpha state. The alpha state is commonly associated with closing one's eyes, relaxation, and daydreaming.

Another physiological definition states that the theta state is required for therapeutic change. The theta state is associated with hypnosis for surgery,
There is as such a great deal of controversy about whether there is any such thing as hypnosis. Many of the effects produced by 'hypnosis' have several alternate theories to describe their occurrence. Since the use of the term 'hypnosis' many of its 'practitioners' have been subject to much research, criticism, curiosity and myths.

Theories of hypnosis

Some theories of hypnosis attempt to describe hypnotic phenomena in terms of brain activity while others concentrate more on the phenomenological experience. In either case, a fundamental distinction is between "state" and "non-state" theories of hypnosis. State theorists believe that an altered state of consciousness is a core part of hypnosis, whereas non-state theorists believe that more mundane psychological processes such as focused attention and expectation are sufficient to explain hypnotic phenomena. The precise definition of what constitutes an altered state of consciousness is a matter of some debate. Although many people who are hypnotized describe their experience as "altered" it is difficult to use these terms in the absence of a prior definition.

The American Psychological Association remains neutral in the argument between "state" and "non-state" theorists. However, this controversy may soon be resolved, as modern brain-imaging techniques offer hope for an increased understanding of the science behind hypnosis, and as the value of both perspectives is increasingly recognized.
hypnoanesthesia (the use of hypnosis to numb sensation of pain), and hypnoanalgesia (the use of hypnosis to decrease sensitivity to pain), which occur more readily in the theta and delta states. Anesthetics, sedatives and hypnotics disrupt neuronal synchrony, thought to underlie theta waves, in both humans and animals, as well as in simple neuronal circuits.] It should be noted that hypnoanalgesia of the skin is a common test for somnambulism. Arm and body catalepsy are one of a few tests done to determine readiness for these surgical applications.

However, it is important to reflect upon the fact that both arm and body catalepsy can be induced in normal non-hypnotized subjects. Indeed, arm catalepsy is a standard stage-hypnotist's test of susceptibility. Moreover, normal, non-hypnotized subjects can be found in any of these states of cortical arousal without also displaying any of the behavior, traits or the enhanced suggestibility associated with being hypnotized.

Social constructionism and role-playing theory

This theory 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.

Generally, during the communication process people can become more receptive to suggestion, causing changes in the way they feel, think, and behave. Some psychologists such as Robert Baker claim that what we call hypnosis is actually a form of learned social behavior, a complex hybrid of social compliance, relaxation, and suggestibility that can account for many esoteric behavioral manifestations. Psychologists, such as Sarbin and Spanos, have suggested that strong social expectations are played out by subjects, who believe they are in a state of "hypnosis", behaving in a way that they imagine a "hypnotized" person would behave.
expectations and subtle methods of communication, the mechanism by which these take place have in part been socially constructed and are not based on the idea of an altered state of consciousness.

Dissociation and neodissociation theories

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: areas of an individual's behavioral control are split off from ordinary awareness. In this case, hypnosis would remove some control from the conscious mind and the individual will respond with autonomic, reflexive behavior. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as "dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place."

Neuropsychological theory of hypnosis

Neuropsychological theories of hypnosis attempt to explain hypnotic phenomena in terms of alterations in brain activity. Based on large amounts of EEG research, hypnosis appears to shift brain activity to the anterior cingulate cortex and left prefrontal cortex in those susceptible.

Hypnosis as a conditioned process leading to sleep

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.

Some modern well-known hypnotherapists subscribe to this theory, since in hypnosis, the subject typically appears to be asleep because of eye closure that is typically part of the induction procedure. However, there is quite a bit of literature on blood pressure, reflexes, physiochemical and EEG studies which indicates that hypnosis more closely resembles complete wakefulness.

Hyper–suggestibility theory

Currently a more popular theory, it states the subject focuses attention by responding to the suggestion of the hypnotist. As attention is focused and magnified, the hypnotist's words are gradually accepted without the subject carrying any conscious censorship of what is being said. This is not unlike the athlete listening to the last pieces of advice from a coach minutes before an important sport event: Concentration filters out anything that is unimportant and magnifies what is said about what really matters for the subject.

Informational theory

This theory applies the concept of the brain-as-computer model. In electronic systems, a system adjusts its feedback networks to increase the signal-to-noise ratio for optimum functioning, called a "steady state". Increasing the receptability of a receptor enables messages to be more clearly received from a transmitter primarily by trying to reduce the interference (noise) as much as possible. Thus, the object of the hypnotist is to use techniques to reduce the interference and increase the receptability of specific messages (suggestions).

Systems theory

This theory may be regarded as an extension of James Braid's original conceptualization of hypnosis as involving a process of greatly enhancing or depressing the activity of the nervous system. It takes and establishes the necessary organization of the nervous system into interacting subsystems. On that basis it develops a picture of hypnotic phenomena as involving not only increasing or decreasing of the activity of particular subsystems, but on their interaction. As a result it brings into centre stage the phenomenon of feed-back loops, familiar in systems theory, and thereby throws light on a mechanism for creating the more extreme of hypnotic phenomena.

Views on theoretical debate

Though various myths have been spread by unfounded conjecture about hypnosis, the field has received significant support from the science-oriented psychology community due to the rigorous research of hypnotic phenomena conducted by some practitioners and theorists (Sala 1999). Heap and Dryden considers the theoretical debates on hypnotherapy to have been productive and that hypnosis has benefited from the attentions of those involved in the controversies - people of calibre and intellectual integrity. Heap and Dryden also state that, in contrast, hypnotherapy from the 18th century and animal magnetism down to the new age therapies of the neo-Ericksonians have been characterized by gullibility and fraudulence.

Ambrose and Newbold (1980) consider the theoretical debate surrounding hypnosis theories to have been productive, especially in relation to distinguishing evidence based research from conjecture.

Research on hypnosis

While one of the first scientifically controlled studies, as opposed to clinical studies, was done by Dr. Robert W. Habbick of Syracuse University as recently as 1968, there is a long tradition (over a century) of hypnosis clinical research which has allowed scientists to test key ideas in the debate. Much clinical research has been conducted into the nature and effects of hypnosis and suggestion, and hypnosis continues to be a popular (if somewhat peripheral) tool in contemporary psychological research.

A number of different strands of hypnosis research are apparent: that which examines the state of hypnosis itself, that which examines the effects and properties of suggestions in and out of hypnosis, and that and nociception [pain] relief, and when combined adjunctively with other therapeutic techniques it has been demonstrated to be a powerful tool (effective for weight loss, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety conditions and many more).

Recently, there are reports that efforts to reduce obesity with hypnosis (when used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and a low-fat diet) may be effective.

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 of 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.

Brain imaging

With the recent advent of new brain imaging techniques (chiefly magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], with EEG and positron emission tomography [PET] contributing to a lesser extent) there has been a resurgence of interest in the relationship between hypnosis and brain function. Any human experience is reflected in some way in the brain – seeing colors or motion is underscored by activity in the visual cortex, feeling fear is mediated by activity in the amygdala – and so hypnosis and suggestion are expected to have observable effects upon brain function. An important issue for researchers conducting brain imaging is to separate the effects of hypnosis and suggestion — knowing that a suggestion given during hypnosis affects brain area X does not just tell us about hypnosis, it tells us about the effects of the suggestion too. To account for this, experiments need to include a non-hypnotic-response-to-suggestion condition —only this way can the specific effects of hypnosis be examined.

A number of brain-imaging studies have been conducted on hypnotized subjects. A selection of these studies are explained and summarized below:

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 (PET) scans (Kosslyn et al., 2000). (This research does not compare the effects of hypnosis on less hypnotizable people and could therefore show little causal effect due to the lack of a control group.)

Another research example, employing event-related functional MRI (fMRI) and 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."

Skeptics dispute the significance of such findings, claiming that such changes cannot be shown to be particular to the hypnotized state, and that any other action such as daydreaming is also likely to alter brain activity in some manner. However, recent studies have shown that hypnotized subjects suggested to experience auditory hallucinations demonstrated via PET scans, regional blood flow in the same areas of the brain as real hearing, whereas in subjects merely engaged in vividly imagining hearing noises, this did not occur. The subject is still a matter of current research and scientific debate.

General methods of hypnosis

The act of inducing hypnosis is referred to as an induction procedure. There is no consensus among practitioners or researchers for which method is the most effective induction procedure. Many associate hypnotic induction with a swinging pendulum, but there are many usable techniques. Most commonly the hypnotist will use calming techniques designed to relax the subject by suggesting that their limbs are going limp, eyelids are getting heavy, etc. Relaxation is not a key factor, however, as hypnosis can be induced during vigorous exercise.

Hypnotic susceptibility is a measurable amount of responsiveness that one can have to hypnosis. Not all people can be hypnotized, but about 10% of people respond exceptionally well. There is little evidence linking susceptibility to intelligence or personality traits, but some research has linked hypnosis to the amount of absorption and 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 (Barnier, McConkey, and Wright, 2004).

There is a common claim that no one can be hypnotized against his will. The counter-claim given by many hypnotists is that while it is not possible make someone do anything against his will, it is possible to change what it is that he wishes to do. This lowering in inhibitions is called disinhibition and can sometimes be found in the hypnotized subject and leads him to performing acts that he would normally consider socially unacceptable or simply would not do otherwise.

New research, developed by Gerald Kein, Board Certified Hypnotist, has claimed that everybody is equally hypnotizable. The rule is simply "people accept hypnosis in direct relationship to the amount of fear they have." Successful hypnosis is attained by the removal of any inhibitory fear. With fear removed, most individuals can be deeply hypnotized in 5-10 seconds. Licensed mental health professionals are generally not trained in these techniques and use the old progressive relaxation hypnotic induction developed in the 1940s (Kein, 1985).

Common hypnosis phases
(From "How to Create a Self Hypnosis Recording". wikiHow. Retrieved on 2007-05-09).

The first phase typically involves having the subject sit or lie down and getting comfortable.

Induction takes the subject from normal awareness to a state of enhanced relaxation.

The deepening phase takes the subject from a very relaxed state into the fully "hypnotized" state, where conscious thinking is minimized.

If the purpose of the hypnosis session is amusement, then this phase is when the subjects are asked to say or perform things that will entertain the audience. If the purpose is a therapeutic effect, this is when the subject is encouraged to see themselves as what they want to become, such as a non-smoker. If negative reinforcement is used, then this is when the subject is told that they will feel ill, or something similar, when the subject engages in the activity that they want to stop.

The awakening phase is when the subject is taken out of the hypnotic state. If the session is to try to alleviate insomnia, then the subject is encouraged to sleep, otherwise the subject is brought back to a state of awareness with the conscious mind fully reengaged.

General effects

Focused attention

Some schools of thought hold that hypnosis as a state is very similar to other states of extreme concentration, where a person becomes oblivious to his or her surroundings while lost in thought. Often suggested as an example is highway hypnosis, when a driver suddenly finds his or her self much further down the road without any memory of driving the intervening distance.
According to state theorists, the act of hypnotizing, is, in effect, the act of deliberately and mechanically inducing a similar state.


Some psychologists have developed studies that show a correlation between the effects people display when acting as "hypnotized" and their level of suggestibility. Some of these studies involve the Harvard scale, and Stanford scale.
Hypnosis has been described as "suspension of the critical factor" which expands on the idea of "increased suggestibility". A person who claims to be hypnotized may accept statements as true that he or she would normally reject. However, this still does not show the validity of hypnosis as a real state, as subjects carrying out role playing would likewise answer seemingly illogically if convinced that was the paradigm.

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.) The mechanism of this effect is, however, disputed. Some hypnotists would claim that this showed the difference between a deep and a shallow hypnotic trance, while skeptics would cite that such effects can be duplicated in other circumstances where an agent holds authority, such as the Milgram experiment. Because of the ability to achieve these effects through normal varieties of communication and circumstance, there is no scientific theory that supports the existence of hypnosis.

Clinical observations of various depths of hypnosis

Breuer's absent pupillary reflex sign
An objective sign of hypnosis can be observed by a pupillary reflex test, which demonstrates a response that is opposed to the normal physiological response. When subjects are in a profound hypnotic state, they are asked to remain in hypnosis and open their eyes. The subjects' pupils are usually dilated and remain dilated or react poorly when a penlight is shone into them—the normal non-hypnotic response is a contraction of the pupil.

The esoteric publication Hypnotism, by Danish hypnotist Carl Septus, is an early reference work that notes the absent pupillary reflex sign. More specifically, it states 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 the hypnotist must avoid suggestions relating to eyes, visual focus, light, and the pupils' dilation or contraction.


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 in the UK) today earn a large portion of their money through the cessation of smoking (often in a single session) and the aid of weight loss (body sculpting).

Psychologists and psychiatrists use hypnosis predominantly for the treatment of dissociative disorders, phobias, habit change, depression and post-traumatic syndromes. There is no evidence that 'incurable' diseases are curable with hypnosis (such as cancer, diabetes, and arthritis), but pain and other body functions related to the diseases are controllable. Some of the treatments practiced by hypnotherapists, in particular so-called regression, have been viewed with skepticism.

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", and so the procedure is "fraught with problems of potential misapplication". This is why forensic hypnosis is not widely used in many countries' legal systems. However, hypnosis therapy is frequently used by the public and there is no shortage of testimonial evidence of its helpfulness.

Organizations promoting hypnosis

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and British Society of Clinical Hypnosis are organizations that attempt to promote the use of hypnosis to treat a wider variety of physical and psychological ailments. The American society was founded by Milton Erickson, who opposed to unlicensed professionals performing therapeutic hypnosis.

Medical and dental application

One of the major initial applications of hypnosis was the suppression of pain during medical procedures. This was supplanted (in the late 19th century) by the development of more reliable chemical anesthetics.

The use of hypnosis in dentistry has a long history. Dealing with hypnodontia – the use of hypnosis in dentistry – has attested to the increasing sophistication of hypnotic procedures to deal with the special problems of the dental patient. Besides smoothing out dental procedures by way of its generalized anti-anxiety effects, it can increase overall patient comfort, make the dental experience acceptable and bearable, decrease resistance to future intervention, and through posthypnotic suggestions, encourage more rapid recovery.

Educational applications

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 focused interest in the work and (c) improving energy to do the studying necessary." The results of his controlled research pointed the way toward the need to apply hypnosis especially with students having trouble 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


Hypnodermatology is the practise of treating skin diseases with hypnosis.

Other uses of hypnosis

Michael R. Nash writes, in a 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."

In his book The Hidden Persuaders (1957) Vance Packard describes research involving behavior of housewives in supermarkets in the 1950's. 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, colors 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.

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

Entertainment and stage application

Professor G.F. Wagstaff, of the University of Liverpool, carried out research around the phenomenon of stage hypnosis or hypnosis for entertainment. He surmised that rather than the subject being in an "altered state" rather they were affected significantly more by social factors and expectations.

Wagstaff's work explores how a hypnotist will carefully choose volunteers from the audience, put them into a trance using hypnosis, and then plant suggestions for them to perform. The critical factor in any stage hypnosis show is the choice of enthusiastic and credulous individuals. Various techniques exist for discerning whether an individual is a likely candidate for a hypnosis stage act, showing a higher than normal susceptibility. Often, the sheer willingness of audience members to volunteer is a sign that they will cooperate with the hypnotist's suggestions during the show whether or not they actually become hypnotized in the first place.

The process used to ensure participants presenting themselves as adequate for the stage starts with the initial call for volunteers from the audience. The hypnotist will use carefully selected terms in the initial call for volunteers. There will be a certain number of chairs, or spots on the stage which will usually be less than the number of initial volunteers. This will set up an unconscious sense of competition among those volunteers who really do want to participate.

For example, the volunteers may be made to believe they are drunk, aliens speaking a strange alien language, naked or seeing others naked, six year-old children, ballet dancers etc. Such suggestions are designed to be temporary, lasting the duration of the show. Stage hypnosis is a unique performance in that it involves real people from the audience responding in a variety of ways, making no two shows the same. There has been debate over the years as to whether some degree of fraud or collusion may be involved in some stage hypnosis acts.

Sometimes a stage hypnosis begins with an "induction" in which the hypnotist asks the entire audience to close their eyes and listen to his/her words. He/she lulls everyone participating into a relaxed state with which he/she may observe who is more susceptible to be hypnotized. Often, people are simply unable to relax and go with the hypnotist's instructions due to an inability to relax and allow their minds to follow instructions without conscious thought or simply determination to not be induced.

There are many behaviours that can be observed of those who "go under", such as slumping in their seat, head lolling to the side, falling into the lap of someone next to them, eye lids flickering, and an inability to wake when spoken to or prodded unless done so by the hypnotist himself. For those who are simply watching this show and seeing the person next to them become induced, it can be frightening to witness.

Variations of hypnosis


Self-hypnosis (or autosuggestion) -- 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. A common occurrence is the use of binaural beats in the audio which is said to produce hypnosis more readily.

Walking hypnosis

Also known as environmental hypnosis, this, as defined by Hypnosis Online, is a naturally occurring trance that one can enter whilst performing a monotonous repetitive task, such as walking or gardening, or in sedentary pursuits such as listening to a lecture or reading, in which one's attention drifts from the task into a trance-like state, often known as "zoning out". This natural reaction to boredom is often harnessed by athletes to render them oblivious to distractions, especially physical symptoms of pain and fatigue, and the state is known in this context as being "in the zone".

Individuals can be trained in how to enter this waking hypnosis state. Many students learn how to use waking hypnosis in their classrooms so that all the information they receive is permanently embedded in their subconscious mind and can be accessed whenever needed. A competent nonlicensed hypnotist can easily teach these techniques to anyone.

Waking hypnosis

This phenomenon, as expounded by Melvin Powers in 1955, involves altering the behaviour 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.

Mass application
Influencing the crowds of 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.

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

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."

Possible dangers of hypnosis

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 undersirable 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."

They also mention:
From Kleinhauz and Beran, 1984:
"In one case, a woman had experienced 10 years of fatigue, irritability, and periods of childish behavior 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."

Extreme reactions

Licensed hypnotherapists have expressed concerns that practitioners of hypnosis who are unlicensed can evoke intense emotions in clients that they are not trained to treat. These abreactions can occur recalling traumatic events.

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.

Individuals have been led by an errant hypnotist to believe in things that they later were able to show did not happen.

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", and so the procedure is "fraught with problems of potential misapplication".

Common misconceptions

The notion of hypnosis has elicited many presentations in popular culture. Intrinsically, the notion that people are susceptible to commands outside their conscious control can be an effective way of representing the notion of the fallible narrator. Due to the nature of belief in hypnosis, it's possible that popular beliefs regarding hypnosis actually influence the experience, reinforcing the beliefs.


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.

English entertainer Derren Brown appeared in a series on Channel 4 (in the UK) and the SCI FI Channel (in the US), as the central figure in "Mind Control With Derren Brown,"  which kicked off on July 26, 2007, with the first of six one-hour episodes.

This series has also been shown on other cable channels. In the pilot, Brown uses a simple verbal suggestion to manipulate a store clerk into accepting a plain piece of white paper as a twenty dollar bill. He also asks subway passengers where they are getting off and then causes them to forget the name of the stop. Additionally, he gets people to hand him their wallets and walk away from him. In other episodes, he convinces people that he is reading their minds when, in fact, he is giving them verbal suggestions which influence their subsequent thinking. He emphasizes that he has no special personal powers.

Hypnosis is caused by the hypnotist's power

Due to the stage hypnotist's showmanship and their perpetuated illusion of possessing mysterious abilities, hypnosis is often seen as caused by the hypnotist's power. The reality is the hypnotist has no power other than to offer suggestions which the subject or client may choose to respond to or not to respond to. But some people are able to hypnotise just within seconds while others take a lot of time.

One is unconscious and unaware in hypnosis

While the word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word for sleep, and many hypnotists still use the language of sleep and awake, hypnosis is not sleep.

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".


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 neither intelligence, sex, nor personality traits affect responsiveness to hypnosis and that hypnotize-ability may in fact be hereditary or genetic in nature.

Overactive imagination

Another misconception in popular culture is that hypnosis is often the product of vivid imaginations and that hypnotic phenomena is 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.

Hypnosis in popular media

Popular magician/mentalist "The Amazing Kreskin" disputes the validity of hypnosis and once offered $100,000 to anyone who can prove such a thing as a "hypnotic trance" exists to his satisfaction.

The Showtime Network television show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, which features comedy duo Penn & Teller, took a skeptical look at hypnosis in one of their episodes. They took the view that the so-called hypnotic trance does not exist at all, and that all hypnosis sessions are merely voluntary shared fantasies. Penn and Teller also state that the unusual behaviors people exhibit during a hypnosis session have always been well within their reach.

Paramount syndicated television show The Montel Williams Show, featured a presentation by Hypnotist The Incredible BORIS where hypnotized subjects reacted to a variety of comical situations, while at the same time showcasing the therapeutic effects of hypnosis such as quitting smoking.

The British car show Top Gear featured one of the presenters, Richard Hammond, getting hypnotized. Once hypnotized, he manifested a number of personality and mental changes, including not remembering how to drive a car, and thinking that a miniature child's version of a Porsche 911 was his own car, and attempting to drive it around in the studio.

An episode of Mythbusters dealt with hypnosis, attempting to ascertain if post-hypnotic suggestion could influence the actions of a subject against their will and/or be used to improve memory.

Several songs are named after hypnosis. These include "Hypnotized" by Fleetwood Mac, "Hypnotize" by System of a Down, The Notorious B.I.G, and The White Stripes, "Mass Hypnosis" by Sepultura, "Hypnotized" by Heathen, Hypnotic Suggestion EP by The Apples in Stereo and also "Are You A Hypnotist??" by The Flaming Lips.

In the popular animated show Futurama, a recurring character is the Hypnotoad. He is first seen having hypnotized the judges of a dog show, enabling him to win. In a later episode, he is shown to have his own popular television show, "Everybody Loves Hypnotoad".

In the long running BBC science-fiction series Doctor Who, the recurring Time Lord villain the Master will sometimes use hypnosis to bring subjects under his control. This is usually achieved by him staring the victim in the eyes and saying, "I am the Master and you will obey me!".

In the 1985 story The Mark of the Rani, the Master uses a pendulum to hypnotize a victim.
in Woody Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, two detectives are stage-hypnotized only to become "word-triggered" thieves.

Hypnotism is part of Derren Brown's performance as seen on Mind Control with Derren Brown.

National Occupational Standards


In 2002 UK Department for Education and Skills developed The National Occupational Standards for hypnotherapy based on National Qualifications Framework and started conferring optional certificates and diplomas in international level through National Awarding Bodies by assessing learning outcomes of training /accrediting prior experiential learning.


The U.S. (Department of Labor) Directory of Occupational Titles (D.O.T. 079.157.010) supplies the following definition:
Hypnotherapist -- Induces hypnotic state in client to increase motivation or alter behavior pattern through hypnosis. Consults with client to determine the nature of problem. Prepares client to enter hypnotic states by explaining how hypnosis works and what client will experience. Tests subject to determine degrees of physical and emotional suggestibility. Induces hypnotic state in client using individualized methods and techniques of hypnosis based on interpretation of test results and analysis of client's problem. May train client in self-hypnosis conditioning.


The Indian Ministry of Health & Family Welfare stated that hypnotherapy is a recognized mode of therapy to be practiced by only appropriately trained individuals.


Professional hypnotherapy and use of the title 'hypnotherapist' or 'clinical hypnotherapist' is not government regulated in Australia. Some organisation are calling for regulation similar to other mental health professions. For example, The Australian Hypnotherapists Association is a member of PACFA which represents many counselling and psychotherapy associations in Australia as well as many other professions.

In 2007 a majority professional hypnosis groups including professional organisations, hypnosis schools and other professional bodies have come together to give a vote of confidence to let the The Council of Clinical Hypnotherapists (CCH) become the peak hypnosis body to represent hypnosis and hypnotherapy to government and industry in in Australia.