scishow theme Focus your eyes on this swinging watch. You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. And now, when I snap my fingers You will watch this whole tutorial. *SNAPS*.
You may have seen hypnotists make people fall asleep on command, quack like a duck, or even change personalities, like in the movie Office Space And these performances can make hyponsis seem pretty questionable to the average skeptical person. So, is there really that kind of power in a soothing voice and a swinging watch? Well, it turns out that hypnosis isn’t just a party trick. There’s scientific evidence that being hypnotized is possible and might cause some real changes in your brain.
Some psychologists even use it as a therapy to help patients with a bunch of physical and mental conditions. So, hypnosis is probably real. Just not in the exaggerated brainwashing way you might think. Different meditation techniques and trance like states have been documented for thousands of years. But what we consider to be modern hypnosis began in the 1700s partially thanks to a physician named Franz Mesmer. Which is where we got the word mesmerize. See, Mesmer had a theory about nature that he called animal magnetism.
But he wasn’t just talking about sex appeal. He thought that there were invisible, magnetic fluids that flowed through living creatures and he claimed he could cure people of all kinds of illnesses by adjusting that flow. Using dim lights, ethereal music, magnets and flashy hand gestures, Mesmer induced a trancelike state in some of his clients and tried to balance this invisible fluid. Some of Mesmer’s patients did get healthier after his treatments.
But when the scientific community put the theory of animal magnetism to the test, they found that a magnetic fluid with healing powers was just not a real thing. So Mesmer and his research were discredited, and many scientists didn’t give the idea of therapeutic trancelike state a second thought. At least, until the mid1800s. That’s when surgeon James Braid began to study this potential therapy.
He coined the word hypnosis to describe it, from the greek word hypnos because he thought the trancelike state was similar to sleep. Nowadays, al psychologists think hypnosis only seems like drowsiness when it’s actually a focused psychological state, kind of similar to meditation. And unlike the flashy hypnotism you might see on TV, al hypnosis is pretty simple. It’s all about focus.
So hypnosis usually takes place in a dimly lit, quiet room. Sometimes there is gentle music playing, but the goal is to remove all distractions. The hypnotist speaks softly, encourages the client to focus their attention on something like maybe a dangling pocket watch, and walks them through relaxation exercises. Eventually, they will reach a state of focus relaxation which just means they are calm, focused and more open to suggestion.
That way, hypnotists can guide their clients through different visualizations or instructions, depending on the goals of the hypnotherapy. Pretty simple, right? al psychologists agree that this relaxed and focused trance is the goal of hypnosis. But there are two main theories about what being hypnotized actually means psychologically. The altered state theory says that hypnosis actually leads to a distinct state of consciousness.
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