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Hypnosis, as defined by the American Psychological Association Division of
Psychological Hypnosis, is "a procedure during which a health professional
or researcher suggests that a client, patient, or subject experience changes
in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior." Any definition is
necessarily vague, as the underlying mechanism is little understood. Some
theories view hypnosis as an altered state of consciousness, others as a
type of focused attention. Psychologists have recently researched hypnosis
and found a strong correlation between the ease of putting someone in a
state of 'hypnosis' and their level of suggestibility.
An alternative wording of this last sentence offers an explanation of what
happens in hynosis. It has been described as "The suspension of the critical
factor" which says a bit more than "increased suggstibility". A hynontized
person appears to accept as true statements that they would normally reject,
statments such as "you have forgotten your name". It appears as if the
hypnotized subject accepts the authority of the hypnotist over their own
experience. When asked afterwards some subjects appear to be genuinely
unable to recall the incident while others would say that they had known the
hypnotist was wrong but at the time it had seemed easier to go along with
his instructions. Hynotists would claim that this showed the difference
between a deep and a shallow hypnotic trance while sceptics would question
the validity of the demonstration.
Hypnotists claim the hypnotic state is fairly common and in some ways cannot
be distinguished from intense concentration when awareness of one's
surroundings is lost. They quote as an example the experience when driving
of suddenly finding oneself much further down the road without any memory of
driving the intervening distance. Similarly when a person is watching
television and focuses so intently on the prgramme that he/she ceases to be
aware of the sides of the screen.
Both these descriptions suggest the nature of hynosis despite which any
definition remains necessarily vague.
Experienced hypnotists find that they can hypnotise almost everyone with the
exception of the very young, the very elderly and people with a very low IQ,
particularly those with an inability to concentrate. Intoxicated people
would also prove very difficult. It is a myth that people with strong will
power cannot be hypnotized, generally they make the best subjects. Hypnotism
depends upon the cooperation of the hypnotist and the subject, when a person
with a strong will power decided to cooperate with a hypnotist then hypnosis happens.
On the otherhand since hypnosis does depend on cooperation no one can be
really hypnotized against their wishes. Being a hypnotist is not a source of
power over other people.
Many religious and cultural rituals contain many similarities with
techniques used for hypnotic induction and induce similar states in their
participants. Scientists first became involved in hypnosis around 1770, when
Dr. Franz Mesmer started investigating an effect he called 'animal
magnetism' or 'mesmerism' (the latter name still remaining popular today.)
The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led James Braid (1795-1860) to
coin the term and develop the procedure known as hypnosis in 1842. Sigmund
Freud briefly used hypnosis for treating patients, but ended up rejecting it
as a useful treatment.
Hypnosis has been used with variable success for hundreds of applications,
including entertainment, analgesia and psychoanalysis. Generally, under
hypnosis people become more susceptible to suggestion, causing changes in
the way they feel, think, and behave, although contrary to popular belief
they do still remain in control of their actions. This suggestibility has
led some psychologists to believe that a state of hypnosis doesn't actually
exist, but strong social expectations are being played out by the person who
believes that they are in a state of hypnosis.
Hypnosis also generally stimulates a feeling of relaxation, and this has
helped the development of it into a therapy - hypnotherapy - although some
of the treatments practiced, such as regression, are viewed by some with
scepticism. When a subject is put through the process of regression it is
claimed that they may invent false memories due to the social expectation
placed on them. Therefore, these memories can not be held as reliable.
Hypnosis is usually brought on by a hypnotist carrying out an induction
procedure. Different people respond more or less successfuly to suggestion.
Some people do seem able to display 'enhanced functioning', such as the
suppression of pain, under hypnosis. However studies suggest that these
qualities are not exclusive to hypnosis, and it is the drama and fantasizing
that encourages the behaviour.