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Stage Shows: Mind Control?

Although hypnosis stage shows can provide laughs for many people, as well as giving hypnosis some publicity, let me make clear from the start that I do not perform hypnosis stage shows, nor do I intend to. My reasons for this are as follows:

  1. Stage shows can give people the impression that hypnosis is some kind of mind control. This point will be discussed and refuted below.
  2. Stage shows can cause people to believe that a person, when hypnotised, does things that he or she would not normally do. This point will also be refuted below.
  3. Stage shows give the idea that hypnosis is some kind of toy. I find it a great tragedy that such a powerful and helpful tool as hypnosis is reduced to a form of entertainment and cheap thrills.

These kind of beliefs force hypnotherapists to waste precious time during a consultation by explaining to our clients that such commonly-held myths are untrue. Personally, I would much rather spend this time helping the client. It is clear, then, that I do not agree fully with the use of hypnosis for public entertainment; I provide this page only to refute some of the myths held about hypnosis. With this in mind, please read on.

Hilarious Antics

People often wonder why the volunteers in a hypnosis stage show get up to what they do. When people are on stage, marching around like Sergeant Majors or clucking like chickens, surely their minds must be under the control of the hypnotist in a Svengali-like way? Wrong. Absolutely, utterly and completely wrong. Although it can indeed appear that some form of mind control is happening, this is certainly not the case. A hypnotist provides the person in hypnosis with suggestions, not commands. Even a person in the deepest state of hypnosis will choose whether to accept or reject these suggestions. Put simply, people perform silly acts on stage because they want to. Nothing more, nothing less.

To demonstrate the points put across in the previous paragraph, please verify for yourself. If you know somebody who has been on stage in a hypnosis show, ask them why they did the things they did on stage. The answer you will typically get is something along the lines of "I didn't go under, I wasn't hypnotised. I only did what I did because I would have felt silly if I didn't. I can remember everything the hypnotist said, and I can remember everything I did."

A stage show volunteer's ability to remember what took place is provided, of course, that he or she was not drunk when taking part! In any case, a drunk volunteer would probably only have performed their antics because they were drunk; a drunk or drugged person is usually unable to enter hypnosis. Also, if a volunteer, upon leaving the stage, was to be questioned by an angry spouse, it is an easy way out of trouble to claim amnesia and/or to plead that their mind was controlled by the hypnotist. Remember, they did what they did because they wanted to. However, sometimes a hypnotist will give a suggestion that the volunteer will forget what he or she did. Susceptible volunteers may actually believe this, and be temporarily unable to recall their actions. The memory is not 'wiped out'; suggestions for forgetting seem to disrupt memory retrieval, not the encoding or storage of the memory. Consequently, a few minutes later, the ex-volunteer's memories of his or her stage antics once again become available to conscious awareness.

It is important to state here that there is no such thing as a hypnotised feeling. Therefore, people who claim not to have been hypnotised on stage probably were; it is likely that they make their claims only because they were expecting to go to sleep or experience some magical experience. Having said that, it is also possible that the volunteer may not have been hypnotised, and he danced like Elvis just because he wanted to.

So, to summarise, the important points to remember are:

  1. The volunteers are extroverts, otherwise they would not even think about going on stage
  2. From the volunteers, the hypnotist uses techniques to identify those people who have good imaginations. Those deemed unsuitable are sent back into the audience.
  3. The volunteers want to carry out the actions suggested to them.

It is the combination of these factors that cause the hilarious antics. The volunteers are only doing the kind of things that they would do on a night out with their friends! Even the person who is extremely susceptible to hypnosis is absolutely free to choose whether or not to carry out the suggested actions.

Having described and explained the reasons for peoples' behaviour in response to hypnotic suggestions, I will next turn to another area of interest: physical phenomena.

Physical Phenomena

People have often seen stage show volunteers demonstrating amazing physical phenomena such as arm levitation and production of pain. Of the two, I will evaluate the pain production phenomena.

To use an example: The hypnotist is holding a pen, and tells a volunteer that this pen is a red hot poker, and the next time they are touched with this pen that the volunteer will be burned. When touched with this pen, the volunteer feels a physical burning sensation; in some cases, a physical mark or blister could even appear.

So what is going on in the situation described above then? Is that situation a result of magic? Again, no; the burning sensation experienced by the volunteer is simply a product of the volunteer's imagination, a variation on the "placebo effect", or even the "nocebo effect". In short, because the volunteer believed the pen would burn them, it did. So it is the power of the volunteer's mind that is key in creating these phenomena, not the hypnotist's.

Conclusion

I hope from reading this page that you now know how hypnosis stage shows really work. I also hope that the information provided has helped you to gain a deeper understanding of hypnosis in general.

Stage hypnosis shows might look like magic, but then so do the shows of the world's most famous magicians and illusionists! Neither of them really are!