After being hypnotized, can people only be obedient?


A mysterious man rocks a pocket watch back and forth, repeats the words "You're feeling sleepy, very sleepy," and issues a series of categorical commands to his hypnotic subjects - in popular culture, hypnosis It is often portrayed this way, although this is not how hypnosis is actually practiced. Affected by popular culture, not only the public has many misunderstandings about hypnosis, but even some professionals' understanding of hypnosis is inaccurate.

According to the definition given by the American Psychological Association, "hypnosis" is a process in which a professional or researcher suggests that a person undergoes changes in feelings, perceptions, thoughts, or behaviors while treating them. Hypnosis is often used to treat some psychological illnesses, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, etc. Neuroimaging studies have shown that the effect of hypnosis is that it activates areas of the hypnotized brain (such as visual processing areas) consistent with suggested events (such as hallucinations of objects).

"Hypnotism" is also often found in various pop culture - especially film and television works. The "hypnosis" shown in these works is usually very magical: for example, in the movie "Now You See Me", the magician can use hypnosis to manipulate people's subconscious and guide the hypnotized subject to perform specific behaviors;In "The Hypnotist", the psychiatrist uses hypnosis to put the patient into a special state, allowing him to shuttle back and forth between the real world and the inner world;In "Get Out", the hypnotist can imprison a person's mind through hypnosis, thus depriving the hypnotized person of control over the body, etc.

Of course, these magical effects are more of an artistic processing of hypnosis in popular culture, and there are many gaps compared with hypnotherapy used in medicine in reality. On the one hand, this gap gives hypnosis a layer of mystery, and on the other hand, it also causes the public to have many misunderstandings about hypnosis.

Steven Jay Lynn is an expert in hypnosis and a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He believed that hypnosis had many beneficial clinical applications, but that myths about it limited the full development and utilization of its potential.

Recently, Lynn and two colleagues published a review article titled "Reconciling myths and misconceptions about hypnosis with scientific evidence" in BJPsych Advances. They The article explains several myths and misconceptions about the characteristics and practice of hypnotism that are common and widely circulated in popular culture. The press release for the article summarizes several of the most common misconceptions about hypnotism:

Myth 1: People who are deeply hypnotized will "blindly obey"

Popular culture often conveys the idea that hypnotism is a specific behavior performed on the hypnotized person that can be used to control others. Therefore, many people believe that people who are deeply hypnotized will show a state of "blind obedience" - they will automatically obey whatever the hypnotist suggests. But in fact, people in a hypnotic state do not lose control of their own behavior. They can resist or even oppose hypnotic suggestions-it depends on whether they have the intention and expectation to retain self-control.

Myth 2: The hypnotized person enters a special unconscious state

Hypnosis is often misunderstood as a special state - the hypnotized person's psychological defense mechanism is weakened, and in a "physically relaxed, conscious unconscious state", the person penetrates deep into his subconscious mind.

In fact, however, a person can respond to hypnotic suggestions even if he or she is conscious and riding a bicycle in the gym. The expression "conscious unconsciousness" is inaccurate because even the most easily hypnotized people are fully awake and aware of their surroundings during hypnosis. A more accurate understanding of hypnosis is to view it as a series of procedures in which verbal suggestions are used to modulate a person's consciousness, perception and cognition rather than unnecessarily stimulating a "special" state".

Myth 3: A person can either be hypnotized or he cannot

Although each person's susceptibility to hypnosis is relatively certain, it is not accurate to assume that a person can either be hypnotized or not. The same person may vary greatly in his or her ability to respond to different hypnotic suggestions - he may respond to certain hypnotic suggestions but not to others. However, most people are responsive enough to hypnosis to actually benefit from therapeutic hypnotic suggestion.

Myth 4: Hypnotists have special abilities

Many people think that hypnotists are like wizards, with special abilities that can hypnotize anyone. But this widely circulated statement is completely absurd. In fact, performing hypnotic induction and precise suggestion does not require any special abilities, only social skills and basic skills required for experimental and clinical procedures (such as the ability to establish rapport) - but hypnosis can only be performed by trained practitioners. Used by professionals in specific situations.

Myth 5: The hypnotized person can retrieve past life memories through hypnosis

This is also a plot that often exists in film and television works: hypnosis can help the hypnotized person recall extremely accurate memories of distant past lives. In real life, there are indeed some people who claim to have retrieved memories of past lives through hypnosis. However, relevant research has found that these so-called "past life memories" are more derived from the information obtained by the hypnotized person and their own imagination. What they actually reflect is their understanding of their previous life in a given history (such as the tenth century AD). Expectations, fantasies, and beliefs about lived experiences and identities (e.g., different races, cultures, and genders).

These misunderstandings about hypnosis exist not only among the general public who do not understand hypnosis, but also among professionals. Some fallacies are even widely spread among clinicians and hypnosis educators.

In 2021, also in the journal BJPsych Advances, several researchers published a paper titled "Update on hypnotherapy for psychiatrists" (Update on hypnotherapy for psychiatrists), which provides a review of the clinical application of hypnosis. It has made a very wonderful summary of the application of hypnosis and some mechanisms in neuroscience, but some explanations of hypnosis still make some of the above mistakes.

"Reconciling Myths and Misunderstandings About Hypnosis through Scientific Evidence" published by Linn and colleagues is a review article on the above-mentioned paper. They cited existing research evidence and corrected some inaccuracies in the paper: for example, the paper also described hypnotism as a special "conscious unconscious state"; and believed that the hypnotized person Will "blindly obey" the doctor's advice, etc.

Regarding these popular and professional misconceptions about hypnosis, Lynn and colleagues wrote in the article: "The spread of misinformation about hypnosis can lead to unscientific and inaccurate views of hypnosis and distance the field of hypnosis from its evidence base. Doing so would have potentially adverse consequences for how clinicians apply hypnosis." They hope this review article will "draw more attention to common discrepancies between clinical practice and the evidence base and further promote acceptance of hypnosis among psychiatrists. Training and certification in this valuable but often misunderstood technology."