By uttering a single word, Sakari Kallio can take the highly hypnotisable test person in and out of a hypnotic state. When the person is under hypnosis their eyes look glazed and their blinking frequency is drastically reduced. This is the so-called “trance stare”, which researchers prefer to call a hypnotically induced stare.
Scientists disagree as to whether or not hypnosis is real. Are subjects who are said to be hypnotised just allowing themselves to be guided by suggestion, empathy, fantasy and their own notions? Or is hypnosis objectively measurable as an altered state of mind?
“We have studied a few control subjects who are highly receptive to hypnosis and found proof that hypnosis can affect, and even change, how they consciously perceive an object,” says Associate Professor Sakari Kallio of Skövde University College (HIS) in Sweden.
“Automatic processes in the brain, such as perception of colours, are modified during hypnosis, which means their consciousness is altered,” he explains.
Swedish and Finnish researchers have found concrete, objective signs that show a person is hypnotised.
“By observing raised levels of high-frequency activity in the brain of test subjects, their reaction times and automatic as well as controlled eye movements, we’ve seen that hypnosis is really authentic and objectively measurable,” says Kallio.
In part of the study two female test subjects were shown various figures of different colours on a computer screen. The figures were shown one at a time on different areas of the screen and the test subjects were assigned the task of naming the colours of the various figures. Afterwards they were hypnotised and informed that all the squares were red.
“The test persons didn’t all react as well to the hypnotic suggestion, but one of them clearly saw all the squares as red, even though they were in completely different colours,” says the researcher.
“And by performing other tests, such as measuring the level of high-frequency brain activity, we saw that this test person changed the colour of the square to red long before she was conscious of the figure appearing on the computer screen.”
“In other words her brain wasn’t capable of seeing the square as any other colour than red – which means she wasn’t capable of using her own imagination or sensitivity. Her perception of the object, via hypnosis, had been affected,” says Kallio.
He said the result shows that hypnosis is not something the individual can affect, but is rather the result of a hallucination of which the subject is unaware.
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