Here at Morpheus, we strive to make hypnosis make sense. This is not always an easy task considering how ambiguous a topic hypnosis can be and how many misconceptions there are about what hypnosis is and what it is used for. Sometimes we need tools and examples to illustrate how the science of hypnosis works. Enter asapSCIENCE’s new Youtube video (which you can view at the bottom of the page), “Will This Hypnotize You?,” A science-based explanation of hypnosis and hypnotic suggestibility. In this month’s blog post, I’d like to further explain a few of the concepts in the video.

The video defines hypnosis as “a state of consciousness involving highly focused attention minimizing competing thoughts and allowing an enhanced ability to respond to suggestions.” It goes on to say that scientifically, hypnosis is similar to the sort of focus your brain feels when you’re reading a book or watching television.

The Lemon Test

The video touches on the Lemon Test for a moment, but doesn’t go into detail. The Lemon Test is an exercise we regularly use here at Morpheus to test whether or not a client is a good candidate for hypnosis. During the exercise, the hypnotherapist prompts you to imagine a lemon, the way its skin feels, the way it smells, and then suggests that you imagine cutting the lemon open and squeezing the juice into your mouth. If you taste a slight sourness and your mouth begins to produce extra saliva, you have just been briefly hypnotized and are more than likely a good candidate for hypnosis, based on suggestibility. Your ability to internalize the suggestions being given to you and briefly suspend reality create the basis for suggestibility.

Stroop Effect

Next is the Stroop Effect, a psychological test first documented by John Ridley Stroop in 1935, a study of the brain’s reaction time to stimulus. Multiple variations of the same test were used in the study, but in the most famous one, as the video describes, names of colours were printed in a different colour ink than the name of the colour. Subjects were asked to name the colour the word was printed in, not read the word itself. It sounds simple enough, but since our unconscious mind wants us to read the word first, it gets in the way of our brain being able to give the correct answer quickly.
Hypnotic suggestion has been shown to reduce the Stroop Effect. The video describes an experiment during which a hypnotherapist makes the suggestion to subjects that the names of the colours are written in a language that they don’t recognize, or in gibberish, making their reaction time to naming the colours less delayed. When the test was run in an FMRI machine, subjects showed lowered activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (an area in the brain responsible for resolving conflict in competing demands). Subjects also showed a reduction in activity of the visual cortex (the part of the brain that recognizes words).

Bell Curve

Hypnosis follows a normal bell curve distribution, meaning that there are few people who are unable to respond to hypnotic suggestion at all, a large amount of people who are able to respond to direct suggestions such as, “raise your arm” while in hypnosis, and a select few people people who are incredibly responsive to suggestion. The people in this small group are able to respond to cognitive suggestions that impact memory and perception, such as selective amnesia and hallucinations (two techniques we don’t practice here at Morpheus).