Hypnosis is often thought to be a wakeful state of focused attention and heightened suggestibility, with diminished peripheral awareness.

According to the American Psychological Association's Division 30, hypnosis may bring about "...changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior. The hypnotic state may also facilitate change in the body: it has been successfully used as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, as an alternative to chemical anaesthesia, and it has been studied as a way to soothe skin ailments.

Skeptics point out the difficulty distinguishing between hypnosis and the placebo effect, proposing that the state called hypnosis is

"so heavily reliant upon the effects of suggestion and belief that it would be hard to imagine how a credible placebo control could ever be devised for a hypnotism study."

Self-hypnosis is popularly used by people who want to quit smoking and reduce stress, while stage hypnosis can be used to persuade people to perform unusual public feats.

Franz Mesmer in the 1700's believed that there was a magnetic fluid that surrounds the body. He experimented with magnets to influence this field and so cause healing. He later found that the same effects could be created by waving the hands in front of someone's face. Although his theories were later discredited, the effects he was able to achieve with subjects may shed light on modern day hypnosis. Franz Mesmer is where the word mesmerize originated.

The word 'hypnosis' itself is the invention of 19th century Scottish physician James Braid.

Uses of hypnosis

Hypnosis has been studied in many clinical situations with varying degrees of success. It has been used as a painkiller, an adjunct to weight loss, a treatment of skin disease, and a way to soothe anxious surgical patients. It has also been used as part of psychological therapy, a method of habit control, a way to relax, and a tool to enhance sports performance.

Physical applications

A large number of clinical studies show that hypnosis can reduce the pain experienced by people undergoing burn-wound debridement, bone marrow aspirations, and childbirth. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis found that hypnosis relieved the pain of 75% of 933 subjects participating in 27 different experiments.

In 1996, the National Institutes of Health declared hypnosis effective in reducing pain from cancer and other chronic conditions. Nausea and other symptoms related to incurable diseases may also be controlled with hypnosis. For example, research done at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine studied two groups of patients facing surgery for breast cancer. The group that received hypnosis reported less pain, nausea, and anxiety post-surgery. There was a cost benefit as well: the average hypnosis patient reduced the cost of treatment by an average of $772.00.

Hypnodermatology is the practice of treating skin diseases with hypnosis: this therapy has performed well in studies treating warts, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.

Hypnosis may be useful as an adjunct therapy for weight loss. A 1996 meta-analysis studying the effectiveness of hypnosis combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy found that people using both treatments lost more weight than people using CBT alone.

Psychotherapeutic applications

Self-hypnosis (sometimes called autosuggestion) happens when a person hypnotizes himself or herself. The technique is often used to increase motivation for a diet, quit smoking, or reduce stress. People who practice self-hypnosis sometimes require assistance to enter trance; some people use devices known as mind machines to assist in the process, while others use hypnotic recordings.

Self-hypnosis is said to be a skill one can improve as time goes by, and can help reduce stage fright, promote relaxation, and enhance physical well-being.

Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis in psychotherapy. It is used by licensed physicians, psychologists, and in stand-alone environments. Physicians and psychiatrists may use hypnosis to help treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Certified hypnotherapists who are not physicians or psychologists often do treatments for smoking cessation and weight loss. (Success rates vary: a meta-study researching hypnosis as a quit-smoking tool found it had a 20 to 30 percent success rate, similar to many other quit-smoking methods, while a 2007 study of patients hospitalized for cardiac and pulmonary ailments found that smokers who used hypnosis to quit smoking doubled their chances of success.)

In a July 2001 article for Scientific American titled "The Truth and the Hype of Hypnosis", Michael Nash wrote that "...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."

Controversy surrounds the use of hypnotherapy to retrieve repressed or past-life memories. The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have cautioned against the use of repressed memory therapy in cases of alleged childhood trauma, stating that "it is impossible, without other corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one." Past life regression, meanwhile, is often viewed with skepticism.

Other uses

Stage hypnotism is a form of entertainment for crowds. Due to stage hypnotists' showmanship, many people believe hypnosis is a sort of mind control. However, the real power of stage hypnosis comes from people granting hypnotists the ability to take over their critical thinking. The desire to be the center of attention, having an excuse to violate their own inner fear suppressors and the pressure to please are thought to convince subjects to 'play along'.

Influencing crowds through common longings and yearnings by a demagogue is called "mass hypnosis." "Religious trance" can be brought about through music and dance.

Post-hypnotic suggestion can be used to change people's behavior outside of the trance state. One author wrote that "a person can act, some time later, on a suggestion seeded during the hypnotic session...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.

Hypnotism has also been used in forensics, sports, education, physical therapy and rehabilitation.


Social constructionism

Social constructionism and role-playing theory of hypnosis 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 (see Hawthorne effect, Pygmalion effect, and placebo effect).

Some psychologists, such as Robert Baker and Graham Wagstaff, claim that what we call hypnosis is actually a form of learned social behaviour, a complex hybrid of social compliance, relaxation, and suggestibility that can account for many esoteric behavioral manifestations.

Nicholas Spanos states, "hypnotic procedures influence behaviour indirectly by altering subjects' motivations, expectations and interpretations."


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


Anna Gosline says in a article:

"Gruzelier and his colleagues studied brain activity using an fMRI while subjects completed a standard cognitive exercise, called the Stroop task.

The team screened subjects before the study and chose 12 that were highly susceptible to hypnosis and 12 with low susceptibility. They all completed the task in the fMRI under normal conditions and then again under hypnosis.

Throughout the study, both groups were consistent in their task results, achieving similar scores regardless of their mental state. During their first task session, before hypnosis, there were no significant differences in brain activity between the groups.

But under hypnosis, Gruzelier found that the highly susceptible subjects showed significantly more brain activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus than the weakly susceptible subjects. This area of the brain has been shown to respond to errors and evaluate emotional outcomes.

The highly susceptible group also showed much greater brain activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex than the weakly susceptible group. This is an area involved with higher level cognitive processing and behaviour.

Conditioned process

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.


Currently a more popular "hyper-suggestibility theory" states that the subject focuses attention by responding to the hypnotist's suggestion. As attention is focussed and magnified, the hypnotist's words are gradually accepted, without the subject conducting any conscious censorship of what is being said. This is not unlike the athlete listening to the coach's last pieces of advice minutes before an important sport event; concentration filters out all that is unimportant, and magnifies what is said about what really matters to the subject.


An approach loosely based on Information theory uses a brain-as-computer model. In adaptive systems, a system may use feedback to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, which may converge towards a steady state. Increasing the signal-to-noise ratio enables messages to be more clearly received from a source. The hypnotist's object is to use techniques to reduce the interference and increase the receptability of specific messages (suggestions).


Systems theory, in this context, may be regarded as an extension of James Braid's original conceptualization of hypnosis as involving a process of enhancing or depressing the activity of the nervous system. Systems theory considers the nervous system's organization into interacting subsystems. Hypnotic phenomena thus involve not only increased or decreased activity of particular subsystems, but also their interaction. A central phenomenon in this regard is that of feedback loops, familiar to systems theory, which suggest a mechanism for creating the more extreme hypnotic phenomena.

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