Years ago, my brother had a girlfriend who had been selected out of the audience by one of those hypnotist/comedians that make you do stupid things to entertain an audience. She swore up and down that the hypnotism had really worked. Up until then, I had always assumed that these hypnotists were using pre-arranged audience members to get a laugh. The only time I’ve been hypnotized was when my psychology professor did a demonstration in front of the class. I volunteered and he got me to raise my arm. Little did he know that I did the action conciously because I didn’t want to embarass him in front of the class. So, does this stuff work? If so, does it work on everyone? Sounds to me like a great way to meet chicks…

There are two types of hypnosis: entertainment and non-entertainment. Both of the demonstrations you described were of the entertainment variety.

In basic hypnosis, the hypnotizer induces a deeply relaxed state in the hypnotizee. Using suggestions, he can then lead the hypnotizee through various exercises involving mental imagery and natural physiological phenomena (such as the wavering of a fatiguing hand held up for long period of time). These exercises can leave the hypnotizee in a very calm, almost sedate state of mind.

There is no mind control. There is no amnesia. The hypnotizer remains fully aware of what is happening the entire time, and he or she is always completely capable of doing as they please.

The relationship between the hypnotizer-hypnotizee is an active and cooperative one; at no point does one have control over the other. In fact, the opposite is true-- they rely upon each other in order to get the most out of the experience. Without a willing hypnotizee, the hypnotizer is ineffective; without an effective hypnotizer, the hypnotizee’s experience will lack direction.

In non-entertainment hypnosis, there is only the hypnotizer and hypnotizee. There are no spectators, and thus no external pressures on the hypnotizer to perform.

Spectators add a new dimension to hypnosis. It is likely that the presence of an audience makes it more difficult for people to become relaxed enough to be hypnotized. Also, spectators put pressure on the hypnotizee, because there is a perceived expectation that something will happen to them, that something must happen to them. Hypnotists, of course, can improve their chances of picking a good hypnosis candidate by using various tests of suggestibility. But even if they’re not one bit hypnotized, people will perform in part out of a desire to not make their hypnotizer look incompetent, and to avoid being seen as a bad test subject.

Does hypnosis work? Sure, depending on what type you mean. Does it work on anyone? It works on most people, some better than others. Can you use this to meet chicks? Probably not. Besides, if you can get a chick to be that relaxed in front of you, you don’t need hypnosis, dude. :wink:

Are you positive that that was the real reason you raised you arm? Do you know why you didn’t want to embarass him in front of the class? In the end, you did raise your arm, after all …

I’m not trying to be goofy, here. The late Richard Feynman wrote about his experience being hypnotized when he was a graduate student at Princeton in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. He recalled following a series of instructions from the hypnotist, all the while thinking to himself, “Yeah, sure. Might as well play along with the gag.” Then, after what the hypnotist said would be the final instruction (a post-hypnotic suggestion, actually), he decided he’d had enough and would do the opposite of what he’d been instructed. And found that trying to disobey made him very uncomfortable, to the point that he ended up obeying the instruction anyway.

The point being, we rarely know as much about our motivations as we think we do. The fact that you thought you were following the hypnotic instruction by choice rather than by compulsion provides no evidence whatsoever that the hypnosis had no effect. The only indisputable fact that comes out of that experience is that you did indeed obey the hypnotist.

Be afraid, be very afraid …

This might be a good one for Uncle Cecil to check on for us, actually.


I thought that stage hypnotism was supposed to be fake. When I was in college, the Student Activities Board invited a hypnotist to give shows on campus several times. I went to a couple of the shows and was picked from the audience on one occasion.

I went up on stage with about a dozen other people and was “put under” by the hypnotist. It didn’t work on me and one of the stagehands asked me to leave the stage when I didn’t start acting like a moron like the rest of the hypnotized people. I didn’t try to resist or anything - it just didn’t work.

When I got back to my seat, all of my friends called me a jerk because I was supposed to “play along.” They told me it wasn’t real and that all the people on the stage were just playing along with the gag. I felt like a schmuck for thinking it was real in the first place. But now I’m wondering again after reading some of the posts in this thread…

SCSimmons, from my experience, is correct.

Some years ago I learned self hypnosis from an American stage hypnotist. The course came about by luck and largely involved a large group of friends and acquaintances originally.

It was all very informal, with up to 40 or 50 people sitting around, being hypnotised in batches, doing stage jokes or working on real problems. Sometimes he’d hypnotise all of us at once for some general healthy suggestion.

Back to the point. The first time he hypnotised anyone he did it standing. The person would fall into his arms and be placed on the floor. He would do one of the “proofs” - stiff arm, whatever and then wake the subject.

When asked whether they were hypnotised invariably people would say no. When asked why they were now on the floor, their conscious mind would proffer some ridiculous excuse - I was just going along with it, I was tired, I needed to rest my legs.

The first time I was hypnotised I didn’t feel like I was but had to concede that I had flopped like a rag doll.

A large part of the humour in stage hypnosis is the garbage that people come up with to justify their actions but it’s just their conscious minds making excuses for them. We all do it every day without being hypnotised.

SCSimmons hit the nail on the head, I think.

I have heard many people say “Ha, it’s all fake” or “I just went along with it for fun” yet observation of it makes me think that’s not the case at all.

(There are subtleties to how they behave that tell me that there’s a certain amount of genuine hypnotiser coercion happening when under the influence)

And what SCSimmons says satisfies both arguments. Sure, you won’t ever do things you really do not ever want to do, when under the influence, but it does break down your resistance. I believe hypnotism to be real; so many thousands of participants can’t all be just “going along with it for fun”.

I was hyp-mo-tized my Junior year of college as part of a combination mentalist and stage hypnosis show put on by this guy they had in every year at the start of school. I volunteered to be a guinea pig for his hypnosis with an extremely skeptical attitude, but darned if he didn’t succeed in putting me under and then leading me and about a half-dozen others in a series of stupid human tricks. The experience was rather like a waking dream, or being very sleep-deprived, or being very drunk. I was aware at all times of what was going on, but the whole experience had a distinct surreal tinge to it. I do remember thinking at some point something like “Oh what the hell, let’s give them a good show,” so there must have been a good degree of psychological complicity on my part. My guess is the operative principle is similar to that of divining, as written about by His Nibs.

Three people in a row agreed with me? What’s happening to this board? :slight_smile:

As Thespos’ experience shows, not everyone can be hypnotized. I don’t know of any statistical data showing how common ‘hypnotizability’ is, but it is at least fairly common-stage hypnotists are rarely ‘embarassed’ on a large scale by their volunteers. They’ll ususally pick a fairly small sample (eg. the ‘about a dozen’ that Thespos referred to) and can pretty much count on having success with at least a few of them …


A few years back I read a rather lenghty and heavily footnoted book about hypnotism. In short, AudreyK is correct.

Hypnotism is a trancelike heightened state of suggestability. Different people have differing abilities to as to how deep the trance can be.

[sup]You will agree with SCSimmons, you will agree with SCSimmons, you will agree…[/sup]


Originally posted by JAPrufrock
The only time I’ve been hypnotized was when my psychology professor did a demonstration in front of the class. I volunteered and he got me to raise my arm. Little did he know that I did the action conciously because I didn’t want to embarass him in front of the class.

Are you positive that that was the real reason you raised you arm? Do you know why you didn’t want to embarass him in front of the class? In the end, you did raise your arm, after all …

I understand your point, but I decided before I even got up there that I’d rather do as he said (I was trying to get an A in his class) than embarass him. Sure, you can argue that I just didn’t realize that he was"making" me do it, but I don’t buy it. And, if he tried to make me, say, pull my pants down and bark like a dog, there’s no way I would have done it (only in the bedroom…) Still, I have friends that have gone to live shows where people do REALLY embarassing things, and then claim they don’t remember a thing. I definitely wasn’t in that deep state of hypnotism…

Another reason to be skeptical of entertainment hypnosis has been illustrated by JAPrufrock– some people enter the experience unwilling to cooperate, but do so anyway, and their reasons have little to do with the hypnosis itself.

Even though he* later did the action suggested to him by the hypnotist, it doesn’t mean that there is anything truly supernatural about hypnosis. Just the opposite; it supports the fact that hypnotizees know exactly what is going on while they’re hypnotized. JAPrufrock said it himself that he acted out of a desire to not embarass the hypnotist. Others might play along to get the whole thing over with sooner.

Conversely, other people enter hypnotic experiences willing to believe that there is some kind of mind control involved. I think it’s safe to say that the ones who walk away from the experience swearing they did all these embarassing things even when they didn’t want to tend to be this kind of person. Wanting to believe (or at least being open to the possibility that hypnosis=mind control) leads to a heightened state of suggestibility, which only adds to the natural suggestibility that we all have, to varying degrees.

On a side note, people sometimes claim to not remember what happened during hypnosis. This tends to taken by others as proof of something mystical happening during the experience: hypnosis must be supernatural in nature, because it has a built-in amnesia effect. This is silly. Hypnosis is about relaxation, and it is not surprising that a person would have difficulty recalling something they did while not fully awake. Most people stumble out of bed, shower, dress, and eat breakfast every morning. Few would later have more than just a fuzzy picture of doing those things, and even then, perhaps it is because those actions are so routinized that they even have a fuzzy picture at all.

No offense, but the answer someone gives in response to the question “Were you hypnotized?” is meaningless, unless they have been (non-entertainment-type) hypnotized before.

An African tribesman who has never left his village has no way of knowing what frostbite feels like. Likewise, a person who has never been hypnotized has no way of knowing what hypnosis feels like. All either of them can do is refer to their idea of what the experience must feel like.

With regards to hypnosis, this idea is usually faulty-- most people have images from cartoons or movies as their concept of hypnosis. They are likely to have pictures of near-mindless zombies clucking like chickens on stage, or imitating Elvis, or pulling down their pants. Because they don’t think they were like that, they will conclude that no, they weren’t hypnotized.

Truth is, they probably were. It might not have been the deepest state of hypnosis, but they probably were.

My personal feelings on the matter is that the conscious mind is never out of the driver’s seat, so to speak, during hypnosis. (It’s a reason why you can’t hypnotize someone into doing something personally harmful, illegal, or immoral.) I know from personal experience that during hypnosis, one always knows what is going on around them. You are simply very relaxed. If I had to explain why I did something, my answer would always be because I chose to.

The participants in the demonstration you describe didn’t fall without reason; they chose to. Clearly, it couldn’t have been that some invisible force pushed them down against their will. The explanation, therefore, is that either they made the conscious decision to fall (as JAPrufrock consciously chose to raise his arm) or they simply followed the suggestion of the hypnotizer. Either way, the decision to fall was a conscious one.

Your description of what hypnosis feels like is similar to mine-- surreal, dreamlike, and for lack of a better word, floaty. There is also an awareness of what’s going on around you-- who’s talking, what they’re saying, etc.

You said that you volunteered with an extremely skeptical attitude-- what were you skeptical about? Often, people who say they were skeptical had misconceptions about what hypnosis was about. If you were anticipating anything beyond relaxation or cooperative suggestion-following, then perhaps you can see why the hypnotist succeeded in putting you under despite your precaution. You were expecting a Sherman tank; he approached on a bicycle.

To summarize:

Hypnosis comes in two flavors: entertainment, and non-entertainment.

In non-entertainment hypnosis, the hypnotist talks the hypnotizee into a relaxed state. In this state, the hypnotized person may be more prone to suggestion. People vary in their suggestiblity, and a person’s willingness to go along with the experience influences the quality of their experience. Should they be willing and suggestible, however, a person can be asked to perform a variety of actions, all fairly mundane, and they will comply. In this form of hypnosis, there is no pressure on the hypnotizee to act-- he or she is always cognizant, and is cooperating with the hypnotist. Everything is consensual; there is no coercion, on either side.

With entertainment hypnosis, most of that flies right out the window. Most people find it difficult to attain any level of relaxation in front of an audience. Though some people will not be hypnotized one bit, they will comply with the hypnotizer out of a desire to end the show sooner, or to not make a fool out of himself or the hypnotizer. They might also comply out of the expectation that something should happen, an expectation that is amplified by the presence of the audience. Personal suggestibility and the hypnotizer/hypnotizee relationship play a much lesser role in this form of “hypnosis”.

*-- Many apologies if you are female, JAPrufrock. :slight_smile:

I went to a hypnotist several years ago to attempt to lose weight.

This had no effect whatsoever.

I felt I had to try, having by that time tried everything but hypnosis, drugs, or surgery.

I am now down to surgery, by the way.

The hypnotist was very nice, I felt relaxed, but he no more hypnotized me, nor helped me, than a box of styrofoam packing material.

I don’t see how it could work at all.

Maybe I’m one of those people.


by the way, prufrock, love your love song.

Not that they have the final word, but Scientific American had a cover story on hypnosis last year:


The author noted that individuals have a range suspeptibility to hypnosis:

The best subjects can be hypnotized to not remember their experience, apparently, IIRC.

Interestingly, suggestibility does not seem to be correlated with the above scale: “Several studies have also shown that hypnotizability is unrelated to personality characteristics such as gullibility, hysteria, psychopathology, trust, aggressiveness, submissiveness, imagination or social compliance.”

You hit the nail right on the head, AudreyK. I went into the experience expecting that the hyp-mo-tizer would try to compell me to carry out actions against my will, but little did I know that my subconscious would actually want to play along with his game, in the manner of the already-cited article on dowsing by His Royal Cecilness.

Hypnosis can really be awesome to use to attract many girls !!! I would want to study hypnosis just to attract girls!!!

You are getting sleepy. When I snap my fingers, you will forget all about the SDMB.


Well…yea! I don’t agree with SCSimmons because he hypnotized me. I am agreeing because he is right.



That’s it.

In all seriousness, I still think it isn’t real. Much like the woman at a party who thought she was drinking alchohol and acting loopy when she hadn’t had a drop of the real stuff. You just go along because you want to.

However, ScSimmons may have something. I don’t know.

He had it a decade ago. Whether he still has it now is open to debate.

Can you hypnotize a zombie? 'Cause I thought they already were…sort of.