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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

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hypnotism/hypnosis One of the most controversial subjects or phenomena in psychology is hypnotism. It is said to be an altered state of mind a subject enters into at the instruction of the operator, a trance condition in which the subject is amenable to suggestions made by the operator. Stage demonstrations of the phenomenon may or may not be genuine.
      Since there are no adequate definitions of trance and no means whereby one can test for that state, it appears more likely that hypnotism is a mutual agreement of the operator and the subject that the subject will cooperate in following suggestions and in acting out various suggested scenarios. As such, hypnotism may be a valuable tool in psychology.


The early interpretation of hypnotism was a sort of power that the operator had over the subject, as illustrated here.

      Certainly the picture of the hypnotist (operator) as a figure of power with control over the unwilling victim is the product of ignorance and superstition.
      Anton Mesmer, who gave his name to an early version of hypnotism, “mesmerism,” played with the notion of animal magnetism and then began to realize that the various objects he used——such as iron scepters and vats of chemicals——had nothing to do with the experience his subjects underwent.
      Recent research has shown that weight loss and cessation of smoking, both popularly advertised as curable by hypnotism, cannot be accomplished without the earnest desire of the sufferer to achieve the desired result; this leads to the question of whether or not the results might be as easily attained by some other form of approach, such as religious inspiration, the caring of a family member, or the intervention of another mystic-sounding but ineffective therapy. This is an idea that professional hypnotists do not care to hear.



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