Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis: In Medicine, Dentistry, and Psychology, 2nd Edition

6.Factors That Influence Susceptibility to Hypnosis

Generally, highly motivated, intelligent individuals are the best hypnotic subjects because of their ability to concentrate;5 exhibitionists, with the exception of those who use resistance as an attention-getting device, are easy to hypnotize. Imbeciles, morons, senile persons, certain types of psychotics, and children under 6 years of age, who are incapable of concentrating, are difficult or impossible to hypnotize. However, the ability to concentrate, though necessary for hypnotic susceptibility, is not in itself a sufficient condition since some subjects who show good concentration are relatively unsusceptible.13

Casually mentioning that persons of low mentality seldom are good hypnotic subjects increases motivation. Even though this statement is not strictly true, all patients wish to be regarded as above average in intelligence. Therefore, the remarks, by inference, increase their susceptibility. However, individuals with a real intellectual deficiency usually are insusceptible and tax the ingenuity of the operator.1Scientifically minded individuals are often poor subjects because of internal “noise”—self-analysis of their emotions.

Misdirection, by getting the subject's attention diverted to his own ideosensory or ideomotor responses, increases susceptibility to the operator's suggestions. The misdirection can be employed during the induction procedure as follows: “Would you mind shifting your attention to your toes and feet? As you do this, notice how very, very heavy your shoes are getting. Your shoes are getting heavier and heavier.” (The subject invariably becomes aware of the heaviness, and this begins to build up his conviction that the operator's suggestions are producing changes within his own body.) After a pause, the operator remarks, “You are now becoming aware of the watch on your left wrist. It, too, is getting heavier and heavier … very heavy! Notice that you are no longer aware of the pressure of the shoes; is that not true?” (The subject nods.) “You now can feel the watch, can you not?” (He nods again.) “So, you see, you can either be aware of, or ignore, sensations that are constantly present within your own body.” As has been mentioned, if the subject experiences one sensation after another, the conviction that other suggestions will be followed is enhanced.

Psychotherapists know that neurotics seldom relinquish the symptoms used to get attention. Such mechanisms are pleasurable. Naturally, this is vehemently denied. Instead, they ardently protest that they wish to be cured of their symptoms. However, once rapport has been established, they tend to be more suggestible than “normal” individuals.6,7,14 On the other hand, as just mentioned, exhibitionists are easily hypnotized by the professional entertainer. The hypnosis is not produced by him, but, rather, because the subject expects it to happen. The stage hypnotist likes to give the impression that his passes, staring eyes, and verbalizations produce the hypnosis. He is very anxious to make his audience believe that he is an all-powerful person, so he uses the usual gesticulations and the “mumbo jumbo” to heighten this illusion. Such “window dressing” merely obscures the fact that the hypnosis occurred as a result of the subject's expectation and imagination! The stage hypnotist relies on the subjects to please not only him, but the audience as well.11

Another factor which determines the degree of susceptibility to hypnosis is the subject's ability to restrict his attention span to a given idea. Braid tried to change the name of hypnosis to monoideism—the ability of a person to concentrate on one idea at a time to the exclusion of others.

Cultural factors often determine the depth of, and the susceptibility to, hypnosis.8,12 The feelings and temperament of the operator also determine the outcome of the hypnotic induction; intuitive subjects respond in a positive manner to the operator's empathy and self-confidence. If they develop a good mind-set, they effectively concentrate on his suggestions; if not, they are refractory to all suggestions. If, for instance, the operator is absorbed in personal problems during the induction procedure, this adversely affects the intraverbal and meaningful aspects of his communications. Frankel has provided an excellent review of the characteristics of hypnotic responsivity.4

Susceptibility is definitely enhanced by motivation.10 Though poorly motivated subjects are invariably insusceptible, this does not imply that they cannot be hypnotized. Frequently, the person who is not highly motivated may have an inordinate need for hypnosis. Even though such an individual uses the lack of motivation as a defense, he, too, is often very susceptible to suggestion. Rapport that is established quickly is conducive to greater motivation. It should be impressed upon all subjects that their full cooperation is essential, that they must be willing to respond to suitable suggestions, and that coercion will not be used. This also helps to increase motivation.

The specific technic for handling poorly motivated subjects is similar to the “misdirection of attention” approach described for extremely introspective or analytic persons. Moreover, saying “Even if your mind wanders, you will still hear my suggestions—this will help you to relax” is more effective than saying “Just make your mind a blank.” Many subjects have been told that it is necessary to concentrate intensively in order to be hypnotized. Since some doubt their ability to do so, they should be informed that only ordinary concentration is required.

The factors which determine susceptibility depend on the capacity to be imaginatively involved, perhaps a genetic factor, and on the manner in which previously invoked beliefs are processed into convictions. These influence susceptibility to hypnosis more than any other factor.5 Diamond does not believe that behavioral-situational factors or observational learning procedures enhance susceptibility to hypnosis.3 This has not been the author's experience. However, he recognizes that certain technics enhance susceptibility to specific suggestions as conditions vary from subject to subject. This is in accord with other researchers, who were unable to relate hypnotizability to sex, age, psychiatric diagnosis, and various personality traits.2


1. Beigel, H.G.: Some signs and causes of unsusceptibility. Br. J. Med. Hypn., 4:34, 1952.

2. Deckert, G.H., and West, J.L.: The problem of hypnotizability: a review. Int. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 11:205, 1963.

3. Diamond, M.J.: Modification of hypnotizability: a review. Psychol. Bull., 81:180, 1974.

4. Frankel, F.H.: Hypnosis: Trance as a Coping Mechanism. New York, Plenum, 1976.

5. Hilgard, J.R.: Imaginative involvement: some characteristics of the highly hypnotizable and the nonhypnotizable. Int. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 22:138, 1974.

6. Ingham, J.G.: Body sway suggestibility and neurosis. J. Ment. Sci., 100:432, 1954.

7. __________: Psychoneurosis and suggestibility. J. Abnorm. Social Psychol., 51:600, 1955.

8. Kline, M.V.: Toward a theoretical understanding of the nature of resistance to the induction of hypnosis and depth of hypnosis. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 1:32, 1953.

9. Martin, R.M., and Marcuse, F.L.: Characteristics of volunteers and nonvolunteers for hypnosis. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 5:176, 1957.

10. Meares, A.: A note on the motivation for hypnosis. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 3:222, 1955.

11. Schneck, J.M.: Relationships between hypnotistaudience and hypnotist-subject interaction. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 6:171, 1958.

12. Secter, I.I.: Considerations in resistances to initial induction of hypnosis. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 5:77, 1957.

13. Van Nuys, D.: Meditation, attention and hypnotic susceptibility: a correlational study. Int. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 21:59, 1973.

14. Weitzenhoffer, A.M.: A note concerning hypnotic susceptibility and maladjustment. J. Clin. Exp. Hypn., 6: 182, 1958.

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