Hypnosis: Have you ever been and is it possible?
June 18, 2011 9:53 PM   Subscribe

How does it feel to be hypnotized? I went to an amazing hypnotist show today, where I saw grown men spanking each other and singing Justin Bieber...I have a hard time believing that I could have been hypnotized, so am wondering if anyone has had the experience and can describe it. Thanks!
posted by tessalations999 to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've talked to someone who went on stage, they were all playing along. Stage hypnosis requires compliant audience members who just want to have fun.
posted by mnemonic at 9:56 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've talked to someone who went on stage and had a full orgasm under hypnosis...I think it's a kind of playing along, but something can happen, not just faking it
posted by Not Supplied at 10:02 PM on June 18, 2011

Been stage hypnotized. It's playing along. The social pressure to go along with absolutely outlandish requests is quite strong, especially after the hypnotist/performer has his foot in the door, behaviorally speaking. What I mean is, that once you are invested enough into it from him asking you to form a conga line or tell everyone what you think of your boss, you don't want to ruin the show by refusing to take a turn dry humping a lawn chair.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:08 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Richard Feynman, who was generally skeptical about hypnosis, describes it in one of his memoirs, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. You might be able to read it starting on page 67 on Google Books.
posted by muddgirl at 10:10 PM on June 18, 2011

Best answer: There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about hypnotism out there. Hopefully this might explain a little bit.

Nearly everyone can be hypnotised - not everyone, but nearly everyone. However, not everyone is good at being hypnotised (you can get better with practice!), and, you have to want to do it. You can't hypnotise someone to doing something they are fundamentally opposed to. This is why you often have people who have been hypnotised in these situations telling everyone after that they "went along with it." Of course they went along with it; if they didn't, they would have stopped. You are still autonomous when hypnotised. You are simply more open to suggestion (this is why, when you rationally think about it, it seems quite illogical the things these apparently non-hypnotised people "went along with").

The people you see on stage at these shows are not randomly selected. On the contrary, they are rigorously screen beforehand. The hypnotist will put the audience through a number of exercises designed to winnow out the people who are most hypnotisable - or rather, most open to suggestion. In terms of general population, we're talking about 1-5% of people are what we might think of as easily suggestible. This just means they are good at being hypnotised. It is true, that most people in those situations would not be able to be effectively hypnotised.

What does it mean to be hypnotised? Well, there are plenty of videos on YouTube of varying quality if you want to see the process, but one important thing to be clear is: you are not not yourself. A hypnotised person doesn't lose control over themselves, or enter a fog-like state. They are typically lucid, cogent, and relaxed. The feeling is somewhat similar to the feeling you may have on a guided meditation. Hypnotists (and guided mediation people for that matter) often talk about "letting go", or "going deeper" - they both share a similar sense of focus and relaxation.

When you have been "put under" like this, you don't feel like you're under anything, per se. You are simply relaxed, and listening to a relaxing voice having a talk about things. The voice doesn't tell you what to do - there are no orders, they will suggest things for you to think about, do, or feel. And you will typically do those things because:
a) you feel safe - these things are no threat to you
b) it may be something you want to do, e.g hypnosis for quitting smoking
c) You are generally feeling pretty good, and you have a kind of "why not?" attitude. The kind of anxieties, or worries, or filters that may usually prevent you from thinking or acting on something are either not there, or their presence is minimised such that they present no barrier.

You won't feel tricked, or mislead, or unable to think clearly. When you put it in context, singing to Justin Bieber on stage is not actually that embarrassing when everyone is expecting you to do it, and you're in a fun and funny environment, expecting to have fun. Look at logically, why wouldn't you do it? As I say, people will often - after one of these shows - say they "went along with it" - and they did, but it doesn't mean they weren't hypnotised.

A hypnotherapist may pop in to provide a bit more detail. I tried hypnotherapy for insomnia several years ago. I wasn't in that lucky 1-5% who are great at being hypnotised, but the psychologist I worked with was very interesting and helpful.
posted by smoke at 10:21 PM on June 18, 2011 [21 favorites]

A couple of "Ask Me Anything" threads have happened on Reddit that you might find interesting:

AMA #1, AMA #2
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:39 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have also been staged hypnotized at a comedy club like that. I felt that I was going along with it, but I did everything suggested and didn't think about resisting, so I don't know if I could have.

Based on my experience as a subject, smoke seems to have it right.
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:24 PM on June 18, 2011

I was hypnotized at a school-sponsored all-night high school graduation party. I mainly remember singing and dancing to some Bobby Brown song. (Maybe "My Prerogative"--this was 1990.) I felt at the time that I wasn't really hypnotized and I just went along with everything because that's what was expected. The hypnotist had said bright people were easier to hypnotize, and I didn't want to embarrass myself by admitting that I really wasn't 'under.' But after reading what smoke wrote, now I wonder if I wasn't just experiencing standard hypnosis and not realizing what it was actually like. On the other hand, I do remember that the others I talked to who were in the show claimed not to remember anything that happened while they were hypnotized.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:40 PM on June 18, 2011

I have two experiences of hypnosis, and they are both long enough ago that I can not remember which happened first.

1. My boyfriend and I went to see Martin St James with a group of friends. We had agreed among ourselves that someone had to get up there to see what the truth was and my boyfriend volunteered. One of the tricks played on him was that if he smoked, he'd roar like a lion. He was so perturbed by this, that during intermission we went right round the back of the centre for a cigarette.

Of course, he could have been kidding me, but another trick - get back to your seat and kiss the person next to you. It was the most passionate kiss he gave me in the 3.5 years we were together.

2. I tried to quit smoking using the hypnotherapist who was invited into our government workspace every week. It didn't take but then I was young and didn't try very hard but there were two things that were inexplicable to a skeptic like me.
a. At the start of one session, he touched my ring finger and told me to imagine a balloon was attached. I didn't think much on it.
b. At the end of every session, he told me I felt wonderful.
So at the end of the first session, when he told me to open my eyes, I was surprised to see my right hand raised over my head. The imaginary balloon had acted on it, during the session. And finally, I was enormously frustrated. As someone with a reputation for being sour, every time I walked out of a session with the hypnotherapist, I was smiling and I smiled for the rest of the day, out of my control and it was commented on very much by my coworkers.

The experience of being hypnotized was very like a mindfulness activity, relaxing, comfortable. I never felt like I wasn't in control or that I could be made to do something I didn't like. I was aware of everything he spoke of. It's possible that because I experienced something like mindfulness that it relaxed me enough that I smiled all day, but I don't think so. The raised arm and uncontrollable smiling have left me feeling that hypnotism has benefits and powers beyond my understanding.
posted by b33j at 2:28 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Although I've seen Paul McKenna in action I've never been hypnotised myself: however, I've read (and observation tends to bear this out) that acceptance is a key point - nothing surprises the hypnotised.

For example, if you have someone pretending to be hypnotised and you tell him his wife is sitting on an empty chair next to him, he will happily conduct a mock conversation with her; then if you bring his actual wife up out of the audience he will typically do a big double-take, goggle-eyed surprise act - two wives!!! But a genuinely hypnotised person will not react to the inconsistency: he'll just say hi and not be bothered in the least by the two wives thing.

Somewhat differently, if you tell the subject that a jar in front of him contains strong corrosive acid and tell him to put his hand in it, typically, it is the fakers who do it and the genuinely hypnotised who refuse. This is because the fakers spot the fact that the jar must really only contain water, so they go along with it as they imagine a hypnotised subject would do. But the real hypnotised subjects accept the reality of the acid without thinking about it - and they refuse because they haven't lost their free will and don't want burned hands.

Don't know whether that helps.
posted by Segundus at 2:56 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. My boyfriend and I went to see Martin St James with a group of friends. We had agreed among ourselves that someone had to get up there to see what the truth was and my boyfriend volunteered. One of the tricks played on him was that if he smoked, he'd roar like a lion. He was so perturbed by this, that during intermission we went right round the back of the centre for a cigarette.

Interestingly, Martin St James openly says there is no such thing as hypnotism and has challenged various legal and government bodies to demonstrate the difference between a hypnotised and "non-hypnotised" person. He is fairly honest but guarded about his work, using the phrase "play along" and "sometimes you have to do a little convincing". It's an act.
posted by outlier at 4:18 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Wikipedia page on hypnosis is not too bad an overview. The guts of the debate on the subject, I think, centre around "'state' versus 'non-state'" theories. State theories say that there is some key change of mental state between those who are hypnotised and those who are not - non-state theories say that is is all about stuff like suggestibility and social compliance. Pinning down anything one way or another in the argument is tricky - partly because there is no clear neuro-physiological evidence that those who claim to be hypnotised have anything different going on from those who do not.

Interestingly is would appear that one can be quite a successful hypnotist (including stage hypnotist) irrespective of whether one believes in special state theory or not.
posted by rongorongo at 5:07 AM on June 19, 2011

non-state theories say that is is all about stuff like suggestibility and social compliance.

People want to feel that they have free will and are independent of the influence of others and thus expect hypnotism to feel somehow like a totally different state than their normal consciousness. In actuality (though the degree differs among people) people are suggestible and respond to social conditioning to a greater degree than they are aware of, hence the advertising industry, the placebo effect, etc.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:45 AM on June 19, 2011

I'll post a sort of different experience with hypnosis that I have had. I was hypnotized by a clinical hypnotist during my psych rotation in med school; there were 4-5 of us in the group and I volunteered for a demonstration. He started off with some visualization exercises followed by some breathing exercises and soon I was in a state of intense relaxation (at least that is the best way for me to describe it). Very comfortable, not a care in the world; all in all a very pleasant feeling. He didn't ask me to do anything foolish or try to get me to remember forgotten details of my life (there was no one there who could verify that stuff anyway), but he did demonstrate my relaxed state to the other students by lifting my arm up (for example) and noting whether I kept it where he left it or let it drop to my side. (I forget which I did but I do remember him saying that my response was the appropriate one for someone in a hypnotic state.) I remembered everything and at no point felt like I was not in full control of my faculties, but would be very agreeable to anything someone suggested as long as it was reasonable (i.e. "I'm thirsty, lets go get a Coke" would be something to go along with, "Let's go steal the answers to nest week's exam" would not.) After a few minutes he told me to come out of my trance and I felt completely refreshed. This contrasts sharply with the experience of some of my classmates who were stage hypnotized at a big party put on by the school. They pretty much agreed with those above who said they were just playing along, helped by a few beers. In fact at one point while the hypnotist had everyone running through the audience clucking like chickens, two of them had to go to the bathroom whereupon they stood next to each other at the urinals and debated whether or not to return to the stage. They decided they had had enough fun and sure enough when the hypnotist called everyone back up, two of them were missing.

I am sure there must be some clinical hypnotists here on MeFi. I wonder what they think of their counterparts in the entertainment world.
posted by TedW at 7:49 AM on June 19, 2011

I was stage hypnotized at a big show once. It felt very relaxing, and like everything the hypnotist said was a really really good idea. I still had free will, for example he had us pretend to be at club and dirty dance with a handsome strange. I remember politely refusing to dance (interacting directly with the imaginary stranger) because I had a boyfriend. I tried getting hypnotized again because it was a cool experience the first time, but I didn't realize the show was XXX themed, so I just woke myself up and got off the stage.
posted by fermezporte at 8:27 AM on June 19, 2011

I've undergone hypnotherapy for a phobia of needles, as a condition of hospital admission for elective surgery. I was 12. Since I was highly motivated to have the surgery, the therapy was more successful for me. My worst-case scenario for taking a shot or having a blood draw for medical reasons is now passing out and not freaking out and attacking the nurses. Having said that, what I remember of my experience was very similar to b33j's, particularly with the use of the "magic finger", and TedW's.
posted by immlass at 8:53 AM on June 19, 2011

I've been hypnotized once as part of a guided deep meditation exercise in a martial arts class. This was a unique experience, more than just a deep relaxation. I remember this distinctly because I lost track of time - a class that felt like 20 minutes actually took over an hour. If I hadn't been sitting in seiza, I would have assumed that I had simply fallen asleep.

I've had a therapist attempt hypnosis during a session, and it was completely different. There was no loss of time, I didn't feel anything special other than being very relaxed.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:24 AM on June 19, 2011

Some interesting answers here in this 2003 thread.

I too had the corporate stop-smoking hypnosis which ended with the "you will feel terrific" thing. I have meant for years to go to a hypnotist and just ask to be told I feel great, because boy did that work.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:58 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was in high school I was in an audience at the County fair and was invited on stage after the floating hand test. The suggestion the hypnotist gave me was that I would not be able to say my name. And I couldn't -- try as I might. Then he made some further suggestion that I do something embarassing--can't remember what and I was able to refuse. However, when I went back to my seat, a random guy near me asked me to say my name and I still couldn't. It went away shortly thereafter.

Since then I've used self hypnosis for anxiety and the help me fall asleep and it works very well--I get very relaxed and can sleep deeply.

I went to a hypnotist for help with weight loss and that didn't work as well. I had the whole deep relaxation thing and was aware of his suggestion about eating, exercising, etc. but didn't find myself losing a whole lot of weight afterward.
posted by agatha_magatha at 7:24 PM on June 19, 2011

I've had some brushes with hypnosis. An SO and I tried hypnosis for remembering dreams, which we would then journal as a creative writing exercise. I would say it was successful at that level. We tried experimenting with more "serious" hypnosis such that one of us could make the other do stage tricks, but never succeeded either way, even though the dream stuff had worked.

I was on stage in a demonstration at my college given by a local nurse who used therapeutic hypnosis for smoking and habit cessation. I was pretty skeptical at the start -- standard "relaxation" hypnosis, you are in a safe space of your choosing, etc. -- until she added a variation of the balloon trick. We all started with one balloon. Then she had us keep adding a balloon until every single one of us on stage (all volunteers, no screening) had our balloon-holding arm pulled at least slightly into the air. By the time we got everyone lifting their arm, some of the others were reporting floating in the sky and looking down at all of us. She did something -- a trigger word or the like -- and essentially told us that she was ordering us in "real life", not "under hypnosis", to lower our arms. Some of us could, some of us couldn't. I think I was able to, but my arm felt lighter. She hten released the hypnosis. The thing that stunned me that was for the rest of the day I felt like I had to keep pulling my arm down, e.g. to write on the desk.

I think it raises very interesting questions about free will and perception. As a process, though, it probably defies science.
posted by dhartung at 7:41 PM on June 19, 2011

I read through some of the psych research on hypnosis when I was in college about 15 years ago. Most researchers seemed view to hypnosis as a highly focused state, similar to other focused states like being really caught up in a movie or something you're reading or listening to, meditation, or just being really focused on what you're doing. In the case of hypnosis, you're focused on following the hypnotist's suggestions, and these are often, but not always, suggestions to imagine something counterfactual. So there isn't much difference between being caught up in the show and being hypnotized by a stage hypnotist.

So, in other words, most people I read seemed subscribe to a weak version of the state theory of hypnosis, that is, a hypnotic trance is a highly focused state but isn't really different from other focused states. The differences between state theory and non-state theories seemed to be mostly a matter of emphasis and semantics. (My reading was pretty cursory, so I could be wrong about this.)
posted by nangar at 4:31 AM on June 20, 2011

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