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an artificially induced state of relaxation and concentration in which deeper parts of the mind become more accessible: used clinically to reduce reaction to pain, to encourage free association, etc.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


A presumed altered state of consciousness in which the hypnotized individual is usually more susceptible to suggestion than in his or her normal state. In this context, a suggestion is understood to be an idea or a communication carrying an idea that elicits a covert or overt response not mediated by the higher critical faculties (that is, the volitional apparatus).

Hypnosis cannot be physiologically distinguished from the normal awake state of an individual, and for this reason its existence has been questioned by some investigators. There are few phenomena observed in association with hypnosis, if any, that are specific to the hypnotic state. Most are directly or indirectly produced by suggestions. Through suggestions given to hypnotized individuals, it is possible to induce alterations in memory, perception, sensation, emotions, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and muscular state. Such changes can be, and usually are, incorporated into the complex behavior of the individual, resulting in amnesias and paramnesias, fuguelike conditions, paralysis, loss of sensory functions, changes in attention, personality alterations, hallucinatory and delusional behavior, and even physiological changes. Enhanced recall is sometimes possible. Although sometimes remarkable, the effects produced through hypnosis with the majority of individuals are much less spectacular than popularly believed.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a special type of sleeplike state in humans and higher animals. Hypnosis has been known since remote antiquity. However, until the mid-19th century the notion of hypnosis was based on the spiritualistic assumption of special “fluids” or magnetic waves—special currents that were supposedly disseminated by the hypnotist.

At the end of the 19th century scientific elaboration of the problems of hypnotism was begun, the therapeutic value of hypnotism was established, and the role of suggestion as a method of psychotherapy was elucidated by the works of the Russian scientists V. M. Bekhterev, O. O. Mochutkovskii, and A. A. Tokarskii, the French scientists C. Richet, H. Bernheim, and J. Charcot, the English scientist J. Braid, and the Swiss scientist A. Forel. The work of I. P. Pavlov and his pupils showed that hypnosis is based on the process of inhibition, which affects the cortex of the cerebral hemispheres. This inhibition has a divided character—it is distributed to various sections of the brain at different depths and embraces different sections of the brain. Between the inhibited sections lie wakeful ones in which the cortex and subcortical formations function actively. These sections— so-called guard posts—ensure in particular the possibility of contact (rapport) between the patient and the physician-hypnotist and the possibility of the therapeutic effect of his words (suggestion). At the same time, the guard posts isolate other stimuli that come from the patient’s outer and inner worlds while he is immersed in the hypnotic state. Inhibition in hypnosis is similar to inhibition during physiological sleep.

In the waking state the intensity of excitation of the cortical cells corresponds to the intensity of the stimulus. The varying depth of inhibition in various regions of the brain is linked to the presence in them of phase states that are transitional between sleep and waking. Phase states are characterized by a change in the reaction of the cells to the effect of the stimulus; in the leveling phase both weak and strong stimuli act identically. (For example, the doctor’s word, whether spoken softly or loudly, produces the identical effect.) Under deeper inhibition, the paradoxical phase occurs, in which weak stimuli (for example, words) act identically to or even more effectively than strong ones such as pain, which sometimes elicit no reaction at all. The result is that verbal suggestion in the hypnotic state may have a salutary effect.

In humans hypnosis is achieved by the effect of rhythmic, monotonous, for the most part weak stimuli to the organs of touch (stroking) and hearing (quiet, soothing music or the monotonous speech of the doctor) and by prolonged rhythmic and monotonous influence on other sense organs. These rhythmic, monotonous stimuli in hypnosis are accompanied by verbal suggestion, which produces in the patient a feeling of calmness, the desire to fall asleep, a growing feeling of heaviness in the eyelids, torpor, falling asleep, and subsequent deepening of sleep. Through a combination of these stimuli and verbal suggestion to fall asleep, the development in the cerebral cortex of more or less extensive inhibition of varying depths is ensured. This is manifested by growing sleepiness. (The first stage of hypnosis is a sensation of heaviness in the body, difficulty in opening the eyes, speaking, and thinking coherently—hypotaxia.) If the session is prolonged, a shallow sleep occurs, which is accompanied by a peculiar torpor of the muscles, in which the hand, foot, and other parts of the body freeze in the position in which they are placed by the physician (catalepsy). Ideas and phenomena suggested by the physician in this state are not only grasped but also well remembered and assimilated by the patient, and they are subsequently reproduced by him. The heightened suggestibility, hypotaxia, catalepsy, and somnambulism that arise under hypnosis are included in the concept of hypnotism.

In the stage of deep hypnosis (somnambulism) the patient is completely cut off from any perceptions and ideas of the outside world and his own body, and he maintains contact only with the physician. After the session, he is unable to communicate what happened to him during hypnosis. However, he subsequently fulfills what was suggested to him by the physician. The effect of suggestion and the depth (stage) of hypnosis are not always equivalent. A high effect of suggestion is possible even in the first stage of hypnosis and even in the nonhypnotic state (suggestion while awake). Conditions for receiving and subsequently realizing suggestions are usually more favorable in the somnambulistic stage of hypnosis.

The sleep that develops under hypnosis is itself a salutary factor (regulation by the brain of the functions of metabolism, the internal organs, and the activity of the cardiovascular system and other body systems). Hypnosis may be used as an independent form of treatment, or it may be part of a therapeutic complex (in addition to medications, physiotherapeutic procedures, diet, and other therapeutic methods). Hypnosis is used for treatment of some forms of neuroses, psychopathy, and reactive states. Any human being can feel the effect of hypnosis. However, the speed and the stage of depth achievable in hypnosis (hypnotizability) vary with the individual. It is not advisable to conduct hypnotic treatment contrary to the patient’s desire. The notion of the universal benefit of hypnotic treatment for any patient with any disease is erroneous. The use of hypnosis for purposes beyond the scope of medical treatment is inadmissible and its use by nonphysicians (for example, for stage demonstrations) is prohibited by Soviet law.


Lebedinskii, M. S. Ocherki psikhoterapii. Moscow, 1959. (Bibliography.)
Platonov, K. I. Slovo kak fiziologicheskii faktor, 3rd ed. Moscow,1962. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Hypnosis is used by many therapists to try and reveal the secrets behind people’s dreams.



Hypnosis is associated with dreams in several ways. For various reasons, but especially because of the many formal and informal experiments with mind-altering drugs and Eastern meditation techniques in the late-Sixties, a new field of research was articulated within the discipline of psychology that came to be referred to as altered states of consciousness (ASC). This field became a grab bag of every state of mind that could be distinguished from ordinary waking consciousness. Beyond drug-influenced and meditative states, other mental states associated with ASC research were the more traditional areas of dreams and hypnosis. Hypnotic states and dream states were thus viewed as being in some ways comparable.

Another, more traditional way in which dreams and hypnosis are grouped together is in psychoanalysis, in which both are regarded as providing the therapist with an avenue into the unconscious. Sigmund Freud, for instance, experimented with hypnosis in his early work with mentally distressed patients, but soon gave it up in favor of the therapeutic deployment of free association and the analysis of dreams.

Finally, an early technique of dream research was to make a posthypnotic suggestion for a subject to have a certain kind of dream. The German researcher Karl Schroetter, for example, hypnotized his subjects and suggested that they have particular kinds of sexual encounters in their dreams. His research, published in 1911, relied on Freudian ideas about repressed desires to have intercourse with family members, as well as Freud’s notions about how the mind censored the manifest dream content. Other, later researchers have attempted to utilize the technique of posthypnotic suggestion in dream research, with ambiguous results. Too many factors influence the results to make this approach a fruitful line of research. The only study in which hypnosis has been shown to have an unambiguous impact on dreams was an experiment in which subjects were able to successfully initiate lucid dreaming after receiving a post-hypnotic suggestion to do so.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


An altered state of consciousness in which the individual is more susceptible to suggestion and in which regressive behavior may spontaneously occur.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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