Researchers have found evidence for the existence of a hypnotic state —
the key was in the glazed staring eyes.
A multidisciplinary group of researchers from Finland (University of Turku
and Aalto University) and Sweden (University of Skövde) has found that strange
stare may be a key that can eventually lead to a solution to this long debate
about the existence of a hypnotic state.
One of the most widely known features of a hypnotized person in the popular
culture is a glazed, wide-open look in the eyes. Paradoxically, this sign has
not been considered to have any major importance among researchers and has never
been studied in any detail, probably due to the fact that it can be seen in only
some hypnotized people.
This study was done with a very highly hypnotizable participant who can be
hypnotized and dehypnotized by just using a one-word cue. The change between
hypnotic state and normal state can thus be varied in seconds.
The researchers used high-resolution eye-tracking methodology and presented a
set of well-established oculomotor tasks that trigger automatic eye behavior.
They found the glazed stare was accompanied by objectively measurable changes in
automatic, reflexive eye behavior that could not be imitated by non-hypnotized
In the field of hypnosis research this result means that hypnosis can no
longer be regarded as mental imagery that takes place during a totally normal
waking state of consciousness. On the other hand, the result may have wider
consequences for 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.
Hypnosis has had a long and controversial history in psychology, psychiatry
and neurology. For over 100 years researchers have debated if a special hypnotic
state exists or whether it is just about using cognitive strategies and mental
imagery in a normal waking state. So far, a hypnotic state has never been
convincingly demonstrated, and therefore, many researchers regard the hypnotic
state to be just a popular myth in psychology.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the
Academy of Finland
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