Scientists reveal evidence for hypnotic state

Derek Graney, Staff Writer

Hypnosis has had a long and controversial history within the fields of psychology and neurology. Scientists have debated over the existence of a true hypnotic state, in which a subject is susceptible to the power of suggestion. Now, a multidisciplinary team of researchers from universities in Finland and Sweden may have found evidence that finally settles this debate. They found that the key was in the strange stare of patients under hypnosis.

This stare, characterized by a glazed look in the eyes, is one of the most widely recognized features of a hypnotized person. However, this feature had not been seen by researchers as important and has therefore never been studied in any detail. This could be because, even though this characteristic seems ubiquitous, it is only seen in some hypnotized people.

The study that these researchers performed was done with a highly hypnotizable participant who only needed a one-word clue to move between hypnotized and non-hypnotized states. This gave the advantage of being able to make the switch in seconds. The participant’s eyes were tracked using high-resolution methodology and the participant was presented with a variety of well-established oculomotor tasks (anything involving the use of the eye muscles) that trigger automatic eye behavior. The researchers found that the characteristic glazed stare was usually accompanied by measurable changes in this reflexive eye behavior that could not be imitated by non-hypnotized participants.

For scientists, as well as for the average person, the research means that hypnosis can no longer be regarded as a trick of mental imagery that occurs during a normal waking state of consciousness. However, it could also have implications for the fields of psychology and cognitive neuroscience, since it provides the first evidence of the existence of a conscious state in humans that has previously not been scientifically confirmed.

The scientific debate over hypnosis has been raging for over 100 years as scientists have tried to determine whether an actual hypnotic state exists, or whether it is simply done by using mental imagery in a normal waking state. Many of these scientists still believe the latter, as the evidence provided by this study is not entirely conclusive. However, the evidence is piling up, and if studies like this one continue, it is only a matter of time before hypnosis is viewed the world over as more than just a clever trick.