Cognition, Intelligence and Language History of Psychology

Episode 134: Hypnosis – Myth and Reality

What do you think of hypnosis? Might you be surprised to hear that hypnosis has been accepted by the American Psychological Association? And that there is recent research that strongly supports the so-called trance stare? Hypnosis has a fascinating and controversial history but today it deserves some respect. Still, it’s not a cure-all. Take a trip with me through the history of this fascinating topic on The Psych Files.

It is clear that the main interest of film and television is in hypnosis as absolute control over others. This obviously plays to popular fears and fantasies…[the purpose of film] is to entertain and it’s not entirely realistic on any subject. But the distortion and vilification of hypnosis go far beyond that of other psychological phenomena…In trying to discourage false beliefs about hypnosis — discounting stage hypnosis, past life and alien abduction phenomena — we may, at times, veer too far toward making hypnosis sound boring. Information on actual dramatic developments within the field and descriptions of how enjoyable and fascinating the experience of hypnosis can be may be more effective at combating false images than is relentless debunking. – Dierdre Barrett, Hypnosis in Film and Television (2006)

Resources on Hypnosis

  • Pioneers of Psychology (Third Edition)
  • Kirsch and Lynn 1995 – The altered state of hypnosis: changes: the theoretical landscape. American Psychologist, 50, 846-858
  • Thanks to John Mohl, student representative from Division 30 of the APA, for the link to this article, “Important Notice Regarding Hypnosis and the American Medical Association” which informs readers that, as John said in an email, “…the AMA is officially neutral on hypnosis.”
  • John also recommends this website, The Willmarth Hypnosis Interviews, where you’ll find video interviews and more info on hypnosis. Thanks again John.



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  1. Avatar

    Robert Davis, Ph.D.

    November 2, 2010

    I wish to request an appearance on one of your shows to discuss my latest book, Unseen Forces: The Integration of Science, Reality and You. I am a retired professor of Neuroscience who can address numerous topics (NDE, OBE, psychoactive drugs, UFO, etc.) on the Peak or Mystical Experience and its’ implications for true reality. I can send you a pdf version or the book as appropriate. Thank you for your consideration.

  2. Avatar


    November 2, 2010

    I’m sorry – no I don’t. I just find it often too cost prohibitive to have all the episodes transcribed.

  3. Avatar


    November 2, 2010

    Do you have transcripts?

  4. Avatar


    November 2, 2010

    AJ: great idea about having someone hypnotized while in an MRI. I haven’t hear of that being done I have to say, but I don’t see why not. I’ll have to look around and see. I’ll let you know if I find something. Definitely a great question.

  5. Avatar

    AJ Jack

    November 2, 2010

    I thought the history of Hypnosis was interesting, but I am still not certain of what is actually done to hypnotise someone and what the mechanics of it are. What part(s) of the brain is affected and why? All hypnotic states the same? Has anyone been hypnotised with their head stuck in an MRI? If so what did it show? I think there might be another episode in there somewhere. Alternately do you have any good references you could point me to to answer these questions?

  6. Avatar


    November 2, 2010

    Maria: Well, stress is hard to deal with. Its kind of a generic word. Stress (difficulty dealing with life) can come at you from all kinds of directions – family, job, the stress from emotions we’re having trouble dealing with. Probably best to get a therapist you can talk to about it.

  7. Avatar


    November 2, 2010

    I do not know how to deal with stress

  8. Avatar


    November 2, 2010

    Maddie: Happy to help. The way to download an episode is a little hidden and I apologize for that What you have to do is click the play button on the video and then you’ll see a bunch of squares in the bottom left side of the box. Click on those squares and then a new screen will slide in where you’ll see a download button. That should do it. Thanks for your interest!

  9. Avatar


    November 2, 2010

    Hi there, I was excited when I found your podcast – and want to listen to the hypnosis episode – but there’s no link to stream or download it from this page (as there are for other of your podcasts. Can you help? Maddie
    page ref:

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    November 2, 2010


    I’m glad to hear that you liked this episode. I have to say that it’s one of my favorites too. It was a lot of fun to learn more of the details about the history of hypnosis. Fascinating. Thanks for the comment – appreciate it.

  11. Avatar


    November 2, 2010


    This episode was my favorite so far. I enjoyed all the background information as well as the unbiased point of view you presented. I find it interesting that modern day Mesmer’s still exist peddling all manners of pseudo science. I laughed when I visualized Mesmer entering in his purple garb and porclaiming “Dormir!”. You managed to inform and delight with a topic that is quite controversial. I have seen clinical and stage hypnosis and I remain skeptical as well. I can’t wait for the next episode. There are cases where hypnosis has been used to implant false memories but that is another subject. I think, like placebo, it is most effective in treating minor pain. That is simply my unprofessional opinion. Side note I apparentl;y cannot be hypnotised though many have tried. Keep doing these great shows and cudos on your research here.

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