You may have seen or heard about hypnotist making people fall asleep on their command with just a snap of fingers or make them do things or even change personalities. These acts of hypnosis may seem to be pretty questionable to an average skeptical person. So, is there really that kind of power in a soothing voice or a swinging watch? Well turns out hypnosis isn’t just a party trick. There’s evidence that being hypnotized is actually possible and might cause some real changes in your brain. Some psychologists use it as a form of therapy for their patients to help them in certain mental and physical conditions. So, hypnosis is real, it’s not some exaggerated brainwashing you might think Different meditation techniques and trance-like states have been documented for years.
How it did start?
But what we considered to be modern hypnosis began somewhere around 1700’s partially thanks to a physician known as Franz Mesmer which is from where we got the word to mesmerize from. Mesmer had a theory about nature which he called ‘animal magnetism’ but he wasn’t just talking about sex appeal. He thought that there were invisible, magnetic fluids which flowed through living beings. Using dim lights, ethereal music, magnetic and flashy hand gestures, Mesmer induced a trance-like state in some of his clients and tried to balance this invisible fluid. Some of Mesmer’s patients got healthier after his treatment but when the scientific community put the animal magnetism theory to test they found out that a magnetic fluid with healing powers is not a real thing. So, Mesmer and his research were discredited and many scientists didn’t give the idea of therapeutic trance state a second thought. At least until mid-1800’s, that’s when surgeon James braid began to study this potential therapy. He put forth the word hypnosis to describe it, from the Greek word ‘Hypnos’ because the trance-like state was similar to sleep.
What do professionals think?
Nowadays, scientists, clinical psychologists think hypnosis only seems like drowsiness when it’s actually a focused psychological state similar to meditation. And unlike the hyped up hypnotism, you must have seen on TV, clinical hypnosis is pretty simple. It’s actually all about focus. Hypnosis happens in a dimly lit and quiet room. Sometimes there is gentle music playing in the background but the main goal is to remove all and any distractions, hypnotist speaks softly encourages the client to encourages to focus their attention on something like maybe a dangling pocket watch and walks them through relaxation process. Eventually, they will reach a state of focus relaxation. Which means they are calm, focused and more open to suggestions. That way hypnotists can guide their clients through different visualizations and instructions, depending on the goals of hypnotherapy. Pretty easy right?
Clinical psychologists believe that this relaxed and focused trance is the goal of hypnosis. But there are two main theories about what being hypnotized actually mean in psychologically altered theory states that hypnosis leads to a distinct state of consciousness, Kind of like sleep. Where your mental process works differently and you’re not necessarily aware of what is happening as if you were awake. On the flip side, the non-state theory says that hypnosis is more like role-play. Instead of being a distinct state, it could be a combination of intense focus and certain expectations of what it means to be hypnotized. Basically, you’re still awake and playing along.
Application of hypnosis
So right now, researchers need more evidence of what being hypnotized means in psychological state. But they have found that different people are dependently easily hypnotized. Hypnosis is a voluntary process. So, people have to be willing to listen to their hypnotist focus and relax. But researchers have found out that 10-15% of people are highly hypnotizable. Meaning they very easily slip into the hypnotic state during their session. Another 20% are pretty resistant to hypnosis. And the rest of the people fall somewhere in between. It is not clear what makes someone highly hypnotizable or not, but some studies show that it might have to do something with slight variations in brain anatomy. These researchers used MRI and found subjects who are most easily hypnotized have a significantly bigger rostrum than those who weren’t. The rostrum in the brain is the region associated with brains attention. Other scientist wanted to look at the brainwave patterns of the hypnotized people. Basically, your brain depends on electrochemical energy to work because that’s how neurons communicate with each other. Using EEG, researchers can monitor the electrical activity of your brain and see different patterns of brainwaves. In this research scientist found that hypnosis, especially in highly hypnotizable people, leads to an increase in theta waves which are linked to visualization and attention. Like you are doing math or day-dreaming.
But how does hypnotization affect what a person does or think? Well, apparently it has to do with a concept called top-down processing. our brain receives a lot of sensory information from the world around us. But we do a lot of processing and interpretation to figure around what is going on. The concept of top-down processing says that what you expect from memories and assumptions, the top level of information, can have a big impact on what you perceive with your senses, the bottom level of information. Cognitive scientists have known this for quite a long time. And there are a lot of experiments that show this effect.
• A human being is actually completely awake during hypnotism
• On a daily basis, an average person experiences hypnosis at least twice, a day. (basically, zoning out)
• Hypnosis as a concept has been around for more than 200 hundred years, 18th century.
• The earliest recorded descriptions of hypnosis date go back to as long as ancient Egypt in 1500 B.C.
• Hypnosis is a very well known form of anesthesia.
• A person when hypnotized is under complete control.
• A memory loss after hypnosis can occur only if it was the intended goal of the hypnosis
• You can very well hypnotize yourself.
• The feeling of being hypnotized is different for different people.
Even though some hypnotist used it as a party trick, some find it and use it as a useful tool for medicine and psychology. Some surgeons have used hypnosis before the operation and medical treatments to reduce pain, anxiety and help heal faster. It has also been used during childbirth to reduce pain and anxiety. Hypnotherapy is used in combination with other behavioral therapy techniques to help quit smoking and deal with mental illness like depression and anxiety. Even today scientist cannot accurately define what hypnotized means. Hypnosis highlights how powerful our brains are.