Since its inception about 250 years ago, hypnosis is often seen by scientists and pop culture alike as a cute party trick, great for getting your friends to start acting like dogs with the recitation of a key word. Now, Scandinavian researchers claim to have objectively proven a hypnotic state exists using a new technique.
The study — conducted by researchers from Aalto University and the University of Turku in Finland, as well as the University of Skövde in Sweden — followed a participant who can enter and exit a hypnotic state with the utterance of a single word (what this word is, luckily for said patient, has not be released). When the participant entered this stage, her eyes became glazed over: the most popular physical sign of hypnosis in pop culture.
One of the reasons eye movement hadn't been studied before is not everyone assumes the glazed-over look while hypnotized, yet the research team believes it is in fact the key to proving the existence of a hypnotic state.
The researchers used high-resolution cameras to track the patient's eye movement and other physical changes (blink count, pupil size, and so on) both in the hypnotized stage and in the non-hypnotized stage. The change in reflexive eye behavior could not be recreated outside of the hypnotic stage, leading the team to conclude the hypnotic state is an objective reality.
None of that means that it's suddenly easier to quit smoking by listening to some tapes that cost you only three easy payments $24.99, but it does mean that we have a completely unstudied state of consciousness. With this comes a wealth of possibilities. It's unclear what exactly the mind is doing in this state, though it's theorized that it's more susceptible to suggestion (hence the amount of cash people are willing to spend to attempt quitting smoking or overeating, etc., through hypnosis). Regardless, we just don't know yet. But since it's been proven to exist in some form, it can now be studied.
No telling on when you can make your friends forget they have arms by saying a single word or hypnotize your wife into thinking Die Hard really is the greatest movie of all time, but hopefully the team will get on that study next.
Check out the video below to see the participant's eyes as she enters the hypnotized state.