View Full Version : Hypnosis and "brainwashing"

07-22-2018, 09:14 AM
Hi all,
I've done some research on this subject myself but I'm hoping for some professional help that won't cost me a trip to a Therapist.
I've got a character who's being manipulated and controlled but I need to know methods or hypnosis and brainwashing. My general questions are as follows but definitely not limited to just those questions, any extra information you can give me is very helpful.

Do word triggers really work? How difficult is it to brainwash someone and what does the recovery of that look like? Is it possible to override someone's free will entirely? I've read hypnosis is only what the subconscious is willing to do.
How realistic is The Winter Solider from Marvel movies or character like that, since I'm sort of going for that vibe especially the realtion ship between Bucky and his Hydra handlers.

I've done some research but a lot of it is labelled as Pseudo-science and I'm hoping someone here knows a lot about it.


07-22-2018, 09:44 AM
Hypnotic state or trance is real (eeg and fMRI document it), only about 10% of the population can be hypnotized. People can be induced to hallucinate, essentially.

Given how few people are susceptible and how poor of a therapeutic tool hypnosis is, you won't find a lot of research validating the hypnotic state but there is enough to demonstrate an actual trance occurs. But again only in some people.

Almost everything else has been shown to be crap. There is no evidence you can use a trigger word or give someone a command they follow in the future. That has been disproven along with a lot of other claims which is why you see so much evidence hypnosis isn't real.

People who are "super-susceptible" can be induced to become hypnotized very easily once they've been hypnotized. Some might only need a trigger word to induce the trance but you need the right setting for that to occur. It's not like you can say a word while they are in the grocery store or walking down the street and hypnotize them.

And I'm pretty sure you cannot change someone's beliefs. Convincing someone red is blue works, but it doesn't extend to changing beliefs that last outside of the hypnotic state.

07-22-2018, 10:32 AM
If someone is 'super-susceptible' where is the line between being hypnotized, and just doing whatever some persuasive smooth-talker suggests?

Old Hack
07-22-2018, 10:53 AM
Do word triggers really work?

Yes, but you have to define how they "really work" very carefully.

You can't use hypnosis to make someone do something hugely out of character, so word triggers are limited in what they can acheive.

How difficult is it to brainwash someone and what does the recovery of that look like?

What do you mean by "brainwash"?

Is it possible to override someone's free will entirely? I've read hypnosis is only what the subconscious is willing to do.

No, you can't use hypnosis to make someone do things they are very unwilling to do.

I've done some research but a lot of it is labelled as Pseudo-science and I'm hoping someone here knows a lot about it.


Hypnosis is very contentious: yes, it can work with some people, but the effects you see on stage shows are exaggerated. It's mostly just a technique which teaches the subject how to achieve a state of deep relaxation and awareness. I've been hypnotised quite a few times and find it very easy to slip into that trance state: it's very similar to the flow-state in writing, and I like the feeling of it. I can self-hypnotise now, and use that state to be more productive in my work. But I don't think anyone could use hypnosis to make me do things I didn't already want to do.

07-22-2018, 01:52 PM
Agree with Old Hack and MaeZe. There's a small percentage of the population that can be hypnotized, but it's only possible if they're willing to cooperate. Basically, you can't override someone's free will. Hypnosis isn't as powerful as they portray in movies and magic shows.

If what you're writing is fantasy, though, you have more room to be creative with the kind of hypnosis a character can do. I mean, vampires can sometimes compel people to do anything they want them to do.

07-22-2018, 05:20 PM
I've read hypnosis is only what the subconscious is willing to do.

This is interesting to me. I tried hypnosis for some health issues years ago, and was completely open to it and quite desperate for it to work - and nothing happened. I have no problem with mindfulness meditation etc. and this came as a disappointing surprise.

07-22-2018, 09:13 PM
There are brain activity studies that show the altered state, it differs from meditation, and can't be reproduced by a person not hypnotized.

Stanford Medicine News: Study identifies brain areas altered during hypnotic trances (https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2016/07/study-identifies-brain-areas-altered-during-hypnotic-trances.html)

If only 10% of the population are “highly hypnotizable,” it's no wonder there are so many failed studies.

Science Daily: A hypnotic suggestion can generate true and automatic hallucinations (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130813101014.htm)

Here's one of the studies: PLOS one: A Preconscious Neural Mechanism of Hypnotically Altered Colors: A Double Case Study (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0070900)

It's hard to find studies that looked specifically for objective changes in the hypnotic state, and most studies involve very small sample sizes. It's no surprise given the limited therapeutic value of hypnosis.

Here are 2 more, sorry, nether has the full article available free:

Functional neuroanatomy of hypnotic state. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10023510)

BRADY JP, LEVITT EE. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14173039)

The idea you have to be "willing" does not explain the ~10% who are highly susceptible, however it is correct in that hypnosis does not take over a person's mind like is portrayed in the movies.

07-23-2018, 05:43 AM
I guess by Brainwashing I'm thinking along the terms of the Patty Hearst case or Stockholm syndrome. What sort of events have to transpire to create a reaction like that in the victim? I'm also looking at how it's portrayed in science fiction movies and other fiction mediums and trying to find a realistic balance.

07-23-2018, 05:52 AM
Captivity, threats? Look up Stockholm Syndrome, also, information on how cults get recruits might be useful.

07-23-2018, 05:54 AM
You might be interested in The Push by Derren Brown. It's on Netflix and it's a British reality show where Brown gets people to push someone off a building, thinking they're murdering the person (although of course the person falls into a net.) You get to see all the little psychological levers they use to get people to that point and it's pretty disturbing. What I found most interesting was actually the first cut, which they did by having potential contestants fill out forms in this room where a bell went off every few minutes and a few actors stood up or sat down each time. Most people automatically started doing the same thing, even without being told to. Anyone who kept just sitting and filling out the forms was excluded for not being susceptible enough.

07-23-2018, 09:05 AM
Or look up 'the Milgram Experiment', which involved getting volunteers to subject other people to increasingly high voltage shocks. Interesting how people defer to authority figures.
Or the 'Stanford Prison Experiment', where volunteers were divided into two groups 'prisoners' and 'guards' to see how it affected their relationships. Or, the 'Third Wave' experiment, conducted on high school students to show how people followed the Nazis.

Basically, the results are, sadly, pretty much the same: people would obey a turnip if it spoke in a good, firm voice, and appeared to be in control.

Old Hack
07-23-2018, 11:17 AM
I'm pretty sure that the Stockholm Syndrome has been discredited now--do check.

If you want to change someone's behaviour and have more than a few hours to do it, look into how the partners of abusive people react and change. It's amazing what being bullied and gaslighted can do to a person's behaviours.

07-23-2018, 08:34 PM
Brainwashing and the associated idea of deprogramming were always pop culture ideas rather than psychological/psychiatric ideas. The ways abusers and cults actually control people are not so tidy and a very complex area. If you are looking for a way someone in goodish mental health is rapidly deprived of their free will against their will you are probably in fantasy/sci fi territory.

07-23-2018, 08:40 PM
The Milgram experiment used a lot more than firm voice but also many signals of authority and blame reduction and distancing the victim. Compliance also steadily declined over repeated studies coming into the 70s and beyonds. Yes you can still get people to do a lot just with confidence but outside of a controlled environment entered willingly, not very extreme things. Hypnosis is often very similar in that you can get someone to cluck like a chicken while on a stage, but most subjects are not very susceptible outside of a controlled situation that they entered willingly.

IMHO the most plausible situation would be if you set up such a situation. Like a trusted therapist who is skilled in hypnosis and detected the subject is vulnerable to influence for whatever reasons.

07-25-2018, 06:58 AM
I am skeptical on hypnosis but, as other mentioned, there is some evidence that it has limited success on a small number of susceptible people. As for brainwashing, just go to the national convention of either major political party and you will see lots of brainwashing at work.