There are many different ways to tell if somebody is hypnotised. In this blog, I’m going to cover 17 of the main things that you can look for when hypnotising somebody. With hypnosis, different people respond in different ways. Some people will show many of the following signs of hypnosis, and others will show few. However, the majority of people will usually show at least one observable sign of hypnosis, if not more.
I have listed the different ways to tell if somebody is in hypnosis below in alphabetical order.
Change in pulse/heart rate
When in hypnosis, many people relax. As such, their pulse rate tends to drop as it would during any state of relaxation. This can be a good indicator of whether somebody is in hypnosis, however it is also one of the trickier signs to spot, as you need to be able to see their pulse rate in real time. The best place to look for this is often on the side of the neck (the carotid artery). Do remember though, if you are having somebody engage in physical activity, or thinking about a stressful or unpleasant topic during hypnosis, the pulse rate will likely fluctuate and increase at these times.
In hypnosis, with eyes open, people can often look confused, thoughtful, or have a blank expression. This is often due to the fact that they are not responding consciously (or as consciously) as they ordinarily would.
Decreased response to external stimuli
A very interesting way to tell if somebody is in hypnosis or not, is whether they are bothered by external stimuli. When in hypnosis, people are less affected by the things that are happening around them. Where out of hypnosis, somebody might jump at a loud noise, a hypnotised subject, in response to the same noise, is much less likely to jump. This is often due to the state of intense focus that is generated in hypnosis, and the fact that they are likely to be fully engaged in their imagination to the exclusion of external influences. This is something that you could test with your hypnotised subject by making an unexpected noise nearby, and watching for any reaction.
In hypnosis, when a subject is asked to open their eyes, you will usually notice that the eyes are slightly glazed. They can even sometimes be red. This is similar to when someone awakens from a sleep or a nap. If you have your hypnotic subject open their eyes whilst they are in hypnosis, as mentioned previously, they may look confused or thoughtful, but there is also, quite often, a ‘faraway’ look in their eyes.
One the most widely accepted methods of testing whether somebody is in hypnosis or not, is the application of hypnotic phenomena. Testing whether a hypnotised participant responds with genuine hypnotic phenomena gives you a good indication as to whether they are hypnotised. You may give suggestions for catalepsy, amnesia, analgesia, hallucinations and unconscious movement or ideo-motor responses (IMRs). As well as checking for hypnosis, this is also a reliable way of testing the depth of hypnotic trance.
As mentioned previously, hypnosis generates a state of increased focus. When hypnotising somebody, you will often notice that your subject is very attentive to your words and suggestions, to the exclusion of other internal and external influences. When giving suggestions to a hypnotised subject, it is often very apparent that they are fully immersed in following your suggestions, and engaging their imagination as you have directed them to.
Lacrimation (eyes watering)
Interestingly, some hypnotised subjects’ eyes will water when in hypnosis. This is different to crying. Crying will often happen as a result of a heightened emotional state, whether sadness or even happiness. Lacrimation can happen in absence of emotion, and the eyes can water simply due to the fact that the person is in hypnosis. If this were to happen during a hypnosis session, speak to your subject in order to ascertain whether the tears are related to a specific emotion, or whether they are just a naturally occurring response to being in hypnosis. In order to do this, you might simply ask them to, “please tell me what you’re experiencing now”. If they are experiencing an emotion, they will likely tell you. If not, they’re more likely to suggest that they’re feeling relaxed or that nothing is happening.
One of the most common signs of hypnosis is muscular relaxation. As with the slowed pulse rate, when people relax they tend to notice a reduction in muscular tension. This is why in many stage hypnosis shows, you notice people slumping over. The same can be true in hypnotherapy sessions, a client may start the session sat upright in the chair, and after a while their head and shoulders may slump forwards. You might also notice relaxation of the facial muscles. In hypnosis, some people can look a lot younger, simply by allowing their face to relax. When watching for facial relaxation, you will see a smoothing of wrinkles and a smoothing of the skin.
Random muscle spasms
Though less common, occasionally in hypnosis people will experience unconscious muscle spasms. These can be small or large. It might be that the little muscles around the eyes or mouth twitch, or it could be that an entire arm twitches. These ‘myoclonic jerks’ are naturally occurring in some people, you can think of them as being similar to ‘sleep starts’, where you’re falling asleep and your muscles suddenly jerk you into wakefulness.
Rapid eye movement (REM) and eyes fluttering
If you notice rapid eye movement, it’s a very good sign that somebody is in hypnosis. Rapid eye movement occurs when somebody is visualising an imaginary scene, and often will only happen if they are in hypnosis. The only other time that you’re likely to notice rapid eye movement is when somebody is asleep and dreaming. In hypnosis, you will notice the eyes moving under the eyelids, as if the subject is looking around at a scene. You might also notice the eyelids fluttering as this happens.
Skin colour changes
Skin colour changes, whether pallor or flushing, can naturally occur when somebody goes into hypnosis. It might be that somebody is naturally pale, and their skin darkens in hypnosis, or it could be the opposite. This is a great way to tell if somebody is in hypnosis. In fact, it’s something that you can actively suggest in order to see the response happen for yourself. You might suggest this in terms of heat and cold, warming or cooling the subject with your suggestions in order to notice a skin colour change, or you could suggest the skin tone change directly.
As you might expect, with an increased relaxation and slowed pulse rate, there can also be slowed breathing when somebody is in hypnosis. As hypnosis can significantly increase relaxation, the reduction in a subjects rate of breathing can sometimes be significant. A normal adults breathing rate, when awake, is between 12 to 16 breaths per minute, in hypnosis this is often reduced, and can even drop to as few as 3 to 6 breaths per minute.
Slowed physical responses
When what is deep in hypnosis, subjects will often be slow and sluggish in their movements. This is another fairly reliable way to tell that somebody is in hypnosis. If you ask your hypnotised subject to move, such as to lift a hand or a finger, or to nod their head in response to a question, and they take a long time to do so (or longer than normal), it’s likely that they are in hypnosis.
You might also notice that a hypnotised subject may take longer than usual to speak whilst in hypnosis. This is often more common in hypnotherapy, rather than in stage hypnosis, due to the fact that the topics covered in a hypnotherapy session require more subconscious processing time, whereas stage hypnotists craft their suggestions so that they are easy to respond to quickly.
Slower blink rate/longer blinks
If you have hypnotised someone and have them open their eyes whilst remaining in hypnosis, as well as looking for that confused look and glazed eyes, it’s likely that you’ll also notice they have a slower blink rate and each blink takes longer. This is a good indication that they are in hypnosis.
Catalepsy (stillness and immobility) is a type of hypnotic phenomena that can be suggested, but also that can happen spontaneously in hypnosis. This is why some people find that they do not move when they are hypnotised. Generally, when somebody is awake and resting, they still tend to move, changing their position in order to make themselves comfortable. However, in hypnosis, some people experience catalepsy, where there is an inability or unwillingness to move. Generally, in the hypnosis session, you will tend to notice that catalepsy grows as the session progresses, unless you are having the subject move and be active whilst in hypnosis.
Swallowing rate change
Interestingly, in hypnosis some people will notice a change in rate of swallowing. Some find that whilst hypnotised the body produces more saliva, and as such they swallow more. Conversely, some people get a more dry mouth during hypnosis and swallow less. This method of assessing whether somebody is in hypnosis requires pre-hypnosis calibration. You need to have a rough idea of their natural swallowing rate, in order that you can compare it to their in-hypnosis swallowing rate. This is achieved by observing the subject before you put them into hypnosis.
Tendency for agreement and following suggestions
Finally, one of the best ways to tell that somebody is in hypnosis, is to observe whether they are following your suggestions and are fully engaged in the hypnosis process. People who are hypnotised often have a tendency to agree with the suggestions that they are given in hypnosis, and to follow those suggestions. If you have a subject who is not following your suggestions, or who appears distracted or disinterested, it may be that they are not hypnotised, or that they are only a relatively ‘light’ hypnotic subject. For some applications, you do not need a subject to be deeply hypnotized, and for others you do. That’s why I recommend that regardless of the focus of your hypnosis session, testing hypnotic suggestibility can be a very good idea.