Trance stare led researchers to discover a genuine hypnotic state

25.10.2011

Hypnosis has had a long and controversial history in psychology, psychiatry and neurology. For the past hundred years, researchers have debated whether or not hypnosis really involves an altered mental state unlike the normal wakeful condition, or whether it simply reflects a cognitive state similar to those occurring outside hypnosis.

Up to date, there has been no reliable way for determining whether a person is actually hypnotized or simply faking or simulating hypnosis. Consequently, many researchers have considered the special, altered hypnotic state as a popular myth in psychology.  

An international team of researchers from University of Skövde (Sweden), University of Turku (Finland) and Aalto University School of Science has now provided strong evidence for the existence of a genuine hypnotic state. The researchers studied the ’trance stare’, a glazed look in the eyes that has often been associated with hypnosis in the popular culture but rarely studied scientifically.

The study focussed on healthy adult who is known to be highly susceptible to hypnosis, and is known to respond immediately to hypnotic suggestion. Her eye movements during hypnotic and waking state were measured with a special eye tracker. When she entered hypnosis, her eyes became glazed and her blinking date was significantly reduced. Even more importantly, hypnosis induced dramatic reduction in eye movements that are beyond volitional control in healthy adults. None of thirty tested control subjects could mimic these changes in eye movement patterns volitionally, which underlies that hypnosis does indeed involve an altered mental state which is associated with cognitive and motor changes far beyond our volitional control.  

These findings have major implications for psychology and neurosciences, as they confirm the existence of a novel mental state in humans.

The findings were published on October 24th, 2011 in scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Link to the original study (open access): http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0026374.

Further information:

Lauri Nummenmaa
Aalto University School of Science
tel. +358 40 586 6700
nummenmaa [at] neuro [dot] hut [dot] fi    

Sakari Kallio
University of Skövde, Sweden
tel. +358 44 5445070
sakari.kallio [at] his [dot] se

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