Published in BuzzFeed News, 2018
There is increasing scientific evidence to say that hypnosis is an important psychological tool with some exciting applications, from curing anxiety to reducing pain, and potentially fighting addiction.
So why do we still tend to think of hypnosis as a sideshow performance?
And what's the science behind it?
Earlier this year a study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (published under the American Psychological Association) that found hypnosis can have profound effects on executive function – the cognitive processes that regulate our goals as well as the thought processes and actions oriented towards achieving those goals.
The research, from the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD), aimed to disrupt executive control in participants in a task where participants are instructed to randomly respond "yes" or "no" to trivia questions that pop up on a screen.
The trivia questions ranged from easy ("Are there 12 months in a year?") to very difficult ("Are there 7,107 islands in the Philippines?").
This is known as the Clever Hands test and it has been used in previous experiments that have shown that people are unable to switch off their unconscious motivation for answering the trivia questions correctly.
Truly answering the questions at random would logically give an accuracy rate of around 50% for "yes" or "no" questions but that is not seen in the results of these trials.
Dr Vince Polito, a co-author of the study from CCD, told BuzzFeed News that people are unable to switch off their automatic response mechanism even when motivated by money or placed under time constraints.
"People always, even with those manipulations, think that they're responding randomly but they're not, they're very correct."