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Lauren McD's picture


      The uses of hypnosis range from entertainment to mental therapy to eyewitness accounts. While the validity of hypnosis is questioned in the public, the scientific community generally accepts its successes as various symptom relievers. Hypnosis is basically the practice of convincing subjects to accept and recreate new realities through the suggestions given. (5) People under the influence of hypnosis have the temporary capability to believe new perceptions of their experiences. (2) The general public has varying susceptibilities to be put under hypnosis, which is generally referred to as hypnotizability. While extensive training usually enables any individual to become influenced by hypnosis (2,4), the range of hypnotizability in the public follows a general bell curve format. (4) While most people are categorized as having some response to hypnosis, small percentages are classified as ‘highly hypnotizable,’ or cannot enter the trance at all. An individual’s level of hypnotizability is determined by a series of tests, starting with an ‘induction ritual’ in which a series of relaxations of the muscles and mind is performed. Afterwards, test suggestions are given. Hypnosis is considered successful if the subject experiences no pain when provoked, has automatic movements, partial paralysis, selective amnesia, and hallucinations. (2,3) In other words, the level of hypnosis cannot be accurately judged without the attempt of actually putting the subject under hypnosis. But how can we predict which individuals will be more easily hypnotized before an attempt? What mental traits cause one person to have a higher hypnotizability than another?

      One of the most important variables in hypnotizability is the age of the subject. Vandenburg outlines the two important qualities of an easily hypnotized individual: comprehension of given directions and regulating imaginative situations and complete reliance on another human being for control. Children innately possess complete reliance on adults for survival, so I can understand the correlation between the control of a hypnotizer and the control of a parent. This explains children’s success rates at being hypnotized. As an individual grows, there is a transition from the second quality to the first. While children do not usually possess the potential for hypnosis until late childhood, their recent experiences with ‘playing’ and being rocked and soothed as a younger child already represent a pseudo-hypnotic state. Younger children cannot be hypnotized because hypnosis requires the verbal and cognitive understanding of the instructions and a capacity for expressing the instructor’s desires. (5) Initially, I had always imagined children to be highly susceptible to hypnosis because of their carefree behavior to make up new worlds. Since hypnosis is believing in new realities, which children create all the time, it seems plausible that children should enter the hypnotic state more easily than adults. The transition to adulthood is plainly adjusting to reality. Reality is harder to escape if one holds on more tightly. Therefore, I think children do posses the quality to ‘regulate imaginative situations.’ However, I had forgotten about the necessity for comprehension of instructions and the imagined world. While Vandenburg does not outline the distinct ages of ‘late childhood,’ etc., I interpret this to mean once a child has the capability to understand the requests of the hypnotizer. This, however, has to be at a somewhat earlier age than Vanderburg suggests. While Vandenburg has plausible interpretations, I believe he underestimates children’s capabilities.

      While age is the clearest factor in determining hypnotizability, natural traits in an individual relating to imagination are significant reasons as well. A heightened sense of imagination, a tendency to daydream, the ability to deeply concentrate, and having an open mind all contribute to an increase in hypnotizability. (4) Most of these qualities can be used to describe children because imagination tends to leave us as we develop into adulthood. However, certain individuals possess these qualities to a greater extent than others. Imagery is an important aspect of imagination, and also greatly correlates to hypnosis. People who naturally have a greater ability to recall high imagery words are more susceptible to hypnosis. (1) Kirsch and Braffman suggest that traits such as ‘fantasy-proneness’ and the ability to become exclusively absorbed in everyday tasks are also contributors. (2) From these numerous sources and similar examples, clearly imagination plays a key role in hypnosis. Since hypnosis is, as mentioned above, accepting different realities in trance, it can be rationalized that the ability to imagine fantasy situations without the use of hypnosis enables a subject to reach a state of alternate realities more easily.

      Cognitive differences in individuals also have a role in hypnotizability. People who think in a non-analytical fashion can reach the trance more easily. (1,4) Non-analytical thinking essentially means to me gullibility, which is more imaginative than people who over-analyze every situation. It makes sense that people with imaginative thinking and naivety will be hypnotizable. This means people who accept new things without questioning the reasons are more likely to accept such instances as alternate realities. Qualities such as suspicion are not encouraged in a situation in which one’s mind has to truly believe in an alternate reality at the suggestion of another. While it may seem contradictory, Pearson suggests that people with higher levels of intelligence are more hypnotizable. This is difficult to understand because, as established before, people with lower levels of understanding of how the mind works are likely to be more gullible, exposing them to hypnosis. ‘Non-analytical thinking’ may initially be interpreted as simpler thinking because learning encourages curiosity and questioning, but this is not necessarily true. Perhaps the intelligence is in the ability to open one’s mind to new experiences, which is rewarded with a result. (4)

      While the qualities discussed so far are traits that an individual is categorized by in outside situations, an individual’s views on hypnosis and processes of thinking on the day of hypnosis influence hypnotizability as well. If a person expects to not be hypnotized, it is less likely that they will be. (2,4) A positive attitude towards hypnosis also encourages hypnosis. (2) The motivation for the subject to see the positive effects of hypnosis enables him to accept the potential of being hypnotized with a greater willpower. Pearson suggests that individuals with a pre-founded interest in learning more about the mind are more hypnotizable. This I can agree with because people who want to be hypnotized, for whatever reason are more likely to be. This tends to happen in many other situations in life, only proving further that mind-set can truly affect results. The interactions of the person administering hypnosis and the subject are key to reaching the trance. If there is a substantial amount of trust between the two, the subject subconsciously will accept the trance to a greater extent. (4) This relates back to the idea that older children have a great hypnotizability, since they naturally have a tendency to trust adults.

      Hypnosis seems to depend on the willingness and beliefs of the individual. This may be why so many people question its validity. Since it is clearly not a concrete science and depends on the mind-set of the subject, the research has more suspicions than other areas of science. Since I had always heard some individuals are more susceptible to hypnosis, I was curious about what actually makes people more susceptible. These outlined qualities in an individual and the conditions of the testing day have influence over the success rates of hypnosis. Most of the qualities described are moderate versions of what actually occurs under hypnosis, making hypnosis the extreme state of imagination, motivation, openness, and trust for hypnotizable people.





1) Crawford, Helen J.. Allen, Steven N. "Paired-Associate Learning and Recall of High and Low Imagery Words: Moderating Effects of Hypnosis, Hypnotic Susceptibility Level, and Visualization Abilities." American Journal of Psychology 109.3 (1996): 353-372.

2) Kirsch, Irving. Braffman, Wayne. "Imaginative Suggestibility and Hypnotizability." Current Directions in Psychological Science 10.2 (2001): 57-61.

3) Patterson, David R.. "Treating Pain with Hypnosis." Current Directions in Psychological Science 13.6 (2004): 252-255.

4) Pearson, Judith. "Hypnotizability: Do You Have It?" Engage the Power of Your Mind to Trance-form the Quality of Your Life. 2008. Motivational Strategies Inc. 18 Feb 2010. <>.

5) Vandenberg, Brian. "Hypnosis and Human Development: Intrapersonal Influence of Intrapersonal Processes." Child Development 69.1 (1998): 262-267.


Paul Grobstein's picture

hypnosis and science/neurobiology

"depends on the mind-set of the subject"

"people who accept new things without questioning the reasons are more likely to accept such instances as alternate realities

" ‘Non-analytical thinking’ may initially be interpreted as simpler thinking ..."

Scientists, being in general analytic thinkers and dubious of things that depend on mind-sets are both less hypnotizable and less inclined to regard hypnosis as a legitimate subject of study?  But how about neurobiologists?  How much of what we seek to make sense of depends on mind-set?  And what role does "non-analytic thinking" play in the brain?  Maybe its more sophisticated than analytic thinkers give it credit for?