5 Myths & Misconceptions About Hypnosis


In a continuing effort to plumb the depths of the human mind, I’ve begun to learn about hypnosis through lessons, books, the practice of self-hypnosis, as well as via internet sources (yeah, dangerous, I know, but I try to be cautious.)


It turns out that there’s a lot to learn, in part, because there are so many misconceptions about what hypnosis is and how it works. Many of these incorrect ideas result from the fact that most people’s experience with hypnosis comes from watching stage hypnotists. I don’t want to suggest stage hypnotists are a disreputable lot, but seeing a show (particularly on the television) is likely to give one many a wrong impression of hypnosis because: a.) one may miss the fact that there is screening process going on (often carried out in an entertaining and interactive fashion so as to be part of the show and including innocent elements like calling for volunteers) to get a very select group on stage who are highly susceptible to hypnotic trance  — and probably more gregarious / free-spirited than average. b.) stage hypnotists (and less reputable therapeutic hypnotists) will occasionally say things that are… strictly speaking… untrue. This isn’t [necessarily] to be conniving or underhanded, but instead to prime subjects to be less resistant and skeptical. c.) what makes for an impressive show isn’t what makes for the most effective hypnotic induction / deepening for the average person (which tends to be a rather dull and drawn out affair.)


5.) A hypnotic trance is an unattentive and zombified state of mind. In a hypnotic trance, one is extremely relaxed physically, but one’s mind is highly focused on one particular stimuli (often this is the hypnotist’s voice but it might be awareness of breath, bodily sensation, imagery, or it might involve systematically cycling through a number of different sensory inputs at the hypnotist’s suggestion.) A common example used to help an individual understand what hypnosis will be like is the condition of being zoned out while driving, arriving with no recollection of the past ten miles because one’s mind was focused elsewhere.


The fact that memory can be impaired (not unlike when one is falling asleep or sleeping) and that suggestion of selective impairment (e.g. forgetting one’s name or a particular number or letter) is a common stage trick, makes people think that the subject has mentally flown the coup.


4.) Every person can be readily hypnotized. There’s a sense in which this may be true, and that’s that everybody seems to fall into a trance now and again. Remember, it’s just like zoning out when one is driving. But what most people are thinking of with this myth is more along the lines that any hypnotist worth his/her salt can drop any random person into a deep trance with the snap of a finger and the word “sleep.” However, the science suggests a bell-shaped curve with a lower 15 %-ish who are extremely hard (if not impossible) to induce into a hypnotic trance and a higher 15%-ish who are a piece of cake to hypnotize. The rest fall in the meaty middle, and can be hypnotized but with greater effort and with lower levels of suggestibility. So when a person says, “Oh, I don’t think I could be hypnotized at all,” the odds are against them.  On the other hand, contrary to Hollywood hypnotism and the wishes of Sidney Gottlieb, anyone can resist hypnosis if they decide to — and, sometimes, if they just can’t help themselves.


3.) Dumb people can’t be hypnotized and smart people are more hypnotically susceptible. I see this a lot on YouTube videos and books by hypnotists, and it sounds good. However, when I looked at the peer-reviewed academic publications, I saw something else. Scholars studying what personality traits correlated with hypnotic susceptibility found no such relationship for intelligence and ease of entering a hypnotic trance.


I don’t think hypnotists are lying for the sake of duplicity. First of all, many are probably parroting a line that they heard, that confirmed their beliefs / wishes, and that they never thought to investigate. Others are just trying to make a hard job easier. Think about it, if you tell your audience that dumb people can’t be hypnotized, and that the smartest people are the most easily hypnotized, people are going to be more eager to appear hypnotizable and will be less resistant. People don’t like to look unintelligent, especially in front of huge groups of strangers.


If you’re interested in knowing what personality trait is the most strongly correlated to hypnotic susceptibility (of the limited set that’s been studied so far,) it’s absorption — i.e. the proclivity to get deeply absorbed in a task. So, if you know a person who consistently has to have his or her name called half a dozen times to pull them out of a zone, there’s a good chance that person would make an awesome hypnotic subject. (Note: we all get that way now and again, we’re talking about someone who is consistently / frequently prone to that state.)


2.) A hypnotist can make a subject do anything he wants. People get this idea from movies and from only hearing half the story of expensive (but largely ineffective) programs like America’s MK Ultra and Soviet Psychotronics. The consensus view is that a hypnotist can get the average subject to do something that they wouldn’t do without suggestion as long as it’s not something that they don’t want to do. So you might get an average person to raise their hand, because it’s not embarrassing, painful, or dangerous — and so they won’t be reticent to do it. Squawking like a chicken? Only if the person is the kind who doesn’t mind hamming it up. Murdering someone Manchurian Candidate-style? That’s pure fiction.


I heard a hypnotist say that gregarious people are more hypnotizable. In accordance with the scholarly findings mentioned in item 3, I suspect it’s more accurate to say that a stage hypnotist wants a subject who is both hypnotically susceptible and gregarious. That’s where selecting for people who are outgoing and who don’t object to hamming it up comes in. I don’t know that its true that outgoing folk are inherently more prone to reach a trance state, but they’ll be more fun to watch on stage because they are likely to follow suggestions to do more flamboyant deeds. Of course, studies of personality traits and hypnotic susceptibility don’t usually involve stage hypnosis, so maybe it is true that people who are more gregarious are more prone to trance (or, probably more accurately, less resistant to it) in that particular environment.


1.) Hypnosis involves a hypnotist taking over the mind of a subject. There’s a common refrain that one hears from hypnotists and that’s that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. One’s mind remains one’s mind throughout, even if one is more prone to accept suggestions. The confusion arises from the fact that we hear hypnotists making suggestions and see the subject following said suggestions, even when they involve activities we wouldn’t want to (and probably wouldn’t) do. This looks like the subject is under the command of the hypnotist, but they call them “suggestions” for a reason. For reasons that still aren’t entirely understood, people are more prone to respond positively to suggestion while in the hypnotic trance state.


Here’s a video on the science of hypnosis:

BOOK REVIEW: How to Hypnotise Anyone by The Rogue Hypnotist

How to Hypnotise Anyone - Confessions of a Rogue HypnotistHow to Hypnotise Anyone – Confessions of a Rogue Hypnotist by The Rogue Hypnotist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is the first book in a popular eBook series on hypnosis. The series is written by an anonymous hypnotist and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner from London. As the first book, it addresses the basics of hypnotic induction, including background about what a hypnotic trance is and how it’s achieved, as well as fundamentals of voice and word choice that can influence the hypnotist’s effectiveness. The book also introduces “convincers” and “deepeners,” practices that help get the subject in the right state of mind for hypnosis and which take them deeper into trance, respectively. [Though, the author argues that the former aren’t really necessary.]

This short book consists of 29 chapters and 5 appendices. The “chapters” are as short as a single paragraph and lay out the concepts, and the appendices are scripts for hypnotic induction or trance deepening. This is a short book, and some have complained that it reads more like a detailed outline than a book. While it’s true that it’s a “just the facts” kind of format, many will find that preferable, depending upon how one likes to take in information. As long as you’re not expecting a lot of narrative examples, you may find it’s just what you are seeking. It’s written in a conversational style as if the author were telling one the information in person.

Given the controversial title, a reasonable question to ask is whether the book is practical or a lot of pie-in-the-sky ramblings by someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. What’s the controversy? While there are many hypnotists and would-be hypnotists who claim that they can induce a hypnotic trance in anyone, regardless of the individual or the situation, the science suggests that there is continuum of degrees of hypnotizability. The distribution along this continuum follows a bell curve. What’s this mean? Almost everyone can be hypnotized to some degree, but at one tail there are people who are extremely suggestible – however, at the other end there are people who just can’t be induced. Because there are so many Hollywood misconceptions (see: “Now You See Me”) and hypnosis related fantasy and fiction, it’s not surprising that there are a lot of wrong ideas out there. [I should point out that everyone probably achieves a trance state at some point organically, but some people seem unable to be induced into that state because of anxiety, resistance, or otherwise.] Having said all that, it seemed that the author knew of what he wrote and was quite open about the myths, misconceptions, and limitations.

Later titles in this series address such topics as the details of language for hypnosis, escaping cultural hypnosis, applications for anxiety reduction, uses for combating addiction, as well as the more bizarre and arcane side of the subject.

I’d recommend this book for anyone looking for a primer on hypnosis. I was not bothered by the sparse approach. It’s quick and readable, and seemed to offer well reasoned approach to hypnotism.

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