CAN YOU BE HYPNOTIZED? (May, 1942)
CAN YOU BE HYPNOTIZED?
The war has stirred a new wave of interest in hypnotism. Scientists are exploring anew the mysterious powers locked in the human mind. Can we harness these powers for our use? Here are strange experiments and surprising discoveries of modern mind masters.
By J. B. GRISWOLD
INTEREST in hypnotism spouts up, geyserlike, in wartime. This powerful, spooky, misunderstood force was used to cure shell shock and to restore lost memories in the first World War. Early in this one, stories came from Belgium saying the Germans had hypnotized the Belgians by shooting ” a hypnotic gas” at them—which was silly —and that German soldiers had been hypnotized into performing suicidal feats of bravery—which may be true. Captured British soldiers, known to be loyal men of iron will, made radio speeches saying, in effect, that the Nazis were fine fellows, just misunderstood—and their shocked friends protested, “They must have been hypnotized!” Maybe they were. For years the Germans have been making practical use of hypnotism.
I asked a noted psychologist, “Suppose Rudolf Hess could be put into a hypnotic trance by trickery and developed into an easily influenced hypnotic subject. Then suppose he was worked on for months with the suggestion that Hitler had committed unspeakable crimes upon Hess’s family, was destroying Germany, and deserved to die. If he was given a post-hypnotic suggestion to kill Hitler, and was put into an airplane and told to go to Berlin and do the job, would he do it?”
“Probably not,” the psychologist smiled, shaking his head. ” But it’s certainly not impossible. We don’t know yet just what hypnotism can do.”
G. H. Estabrooks, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Colgate University, Hamilton, N. Y., believes that Hitler’s control over the Germans is definitely a form of hypnotism. Through suggestion, education, propaganda, and hysterical speeches in which he repeats statements over and over—as a hypnotist repeats “You’re going into a deep sleep, a deep, deep sleep”—he has robbed the people of their will power and independence.
It’s a pretty good guess that the Allied governments, too, are taking hypnotism seriously today. They may not be using it to try to make prisoners talk, but they probably are employing it in the treatment of shell shock.
The potential power of the hypnotist was demonstrated recently on a radio program. Howard Klein, a stage performer, appeared to observers to hypnotize more than half of a group of volunteers in a closed room out of his sight. His voice was carried to them over a loud-speaker but did not go on the air. The success of this experiment in- spired a plan for Klein to try to hypnotize an entire radio audience, but it was stopped by horrified executives who pointed out that if Klein hypnotized 100,000 listeners, probably 10,000 would sue for damages. Men driving cars might be put into a trance and their cars wrecked, invalids might have relapses, almost every crime committed while Klein was on the air would be blamed on him.
In my search for new facts about hypnotism 1 went to psychologists, medical men, and stage hypnotists. Five attempts were made to hypnotize me, without success, although I tried hard to go into a trance. Some persons might say, ” So it’s a fake,” or I might argue it proves I have a strong mind. But strength of mind has nothing to do with it, I was told. It only proved that I happen to be one of those who are not hypnotized easily. Had I been between the ages of 12 and 21, the experiments probably would have been successful. Older persons, wise or foolish, are more difficult, and when you lump the whole civilized world into one basket only about one out of five can be put into a deep trance. And no one can be hypno-tized against his will for the first time, except by trickery.
No less an authority than Dr. A. A. Brill, New York psychoanalyst, scoffs at the claims of the psychologists as to the therapeutic value of hypnotism. Dr. Brill has made alcoholics stop drinking for a few weeks and has tried hypnotism in psychoanalysis, but he says that anything that can be done with hypnotism can be done better with some other method.
About 99 per cent of the medical men say hypnotism is worthless as a healing art, and they’d jolly well better stick to their belief. Such is public prejudice that if a doctor let it be known he was using hypnotism, most of his patients would think he had turned to voodoo and would flee in terror. But about 99 per cent of the psychologists believe firmly that it has a legitimate place in mental treatment, although they disagree somewhat as to just what that place is.
PERSONALLY I witnessed experiments and interviewed subjects during and after their trances. From unimpeachable sources I learned of amazing results in hypnotic therapeutics, and I am convinced today that this weird, intangible force is being kicked around like a shabby-looking necklace on the sidewalk. Those who guess it is made of glass baubles may learn they are kicking diamonds and emeralds.
In the hypnotic state the unconscious mind is mysteriously released, and the mind and body act freely upon almost any suggestion—even that the subject will feel no pain, so doubters can stick needles into him Arms and legs have been amputated under hypnotism and teeth have been pulled, and the subject has felt nothing. Suggestions given the subject in the hypnotic state will be carried out after the subject is awakened, and he won’t remember that they were given him. He won’t know why he does these things.
Millions have seen vaudeville hypnotic exhibitions and have noticed that obviously hypnotists do something that temporarily weakens will power. Under such sponsorship hypnotism has acquired a bad name. There is some foundation for our prejudice, although any real injury through hypnotism is practically unknown. Even though the hypnotist should die while his subject is in a trance, the subject would awake unharmed, sometimes in a few minutes, sometimes in a few hours. But scientists who hope to extend the uses of hypnotism agree that its practitioners should be controlled as rigidly as are medical men.
Unlike the ability to be hypnotized, the power to hypnotize can be acquired by almost anyone who carefully notes a hypnotist in action and then practices on friends. That’s one of its dangers. You don’t have to have piercing eyes, nor learn magic words, nor how to wave your hands.
A professor of psychology at a large Eastern university hypnotized a young man for me and told him to keep his right elbow on the chair, raise his hand, and wave it back and forth as if it were on a hinge at the wrist.
“Now you can’t stop waving it,” he said, and the subject couldn’t. “When you come out of the trance your elbow will be tight on the arm of the chair and you won’t be able to stop waving until I touch your hand.”
Then the psychologist woke him slowly, after telling him, ” When you awake you will be feeling fine,completely refreshed and wide awake. There will be no hypnotic compulsion hanging over you from this. No one will be able to hypnotize you unless you give consent in writing, signing your name.”
The young man awoke, grinning sheepishly at his waving hand. He stopped it by holding it with his left hand but the moment he let go it started again. I gave him problems in mental arithmetic to see if concentration on figures would affect the hand. It kept going as he gave me the answers. The professor reached over and touched the hand, and the hand and arm relaxed completely. If he had not stopped it, he said, the effect would have passed away in half an hour or so.
The young man said, ” I felt that I could stop it if I tried, but somehow I didn’t want to try.”
That was exactly the feeling I had a few moments later when the professor made me fall backward. He had me close my eyes and fold my arms, and he said, “Now you’re falling back, falling back, falling—falling— falling.” After a minute or so of this I fell back. I wasn’t hypnotized, but I was influenced by suggestion close to hypnotism. When he started I had a “You’ve got to show me” attitude, and after I swayed back I realized that somewhere along the line I had stopped resisting and wanted to fall back. A few days later, when Howard Klein tried the same experiment, just to see what would happen I fought his suggestions fiercely, saying to myself, “I won’t do it! I won’t do it!” And I didn’t.
Unfairly, it turned out, I was a little suspicious when I went to see Howard Klein, and I carried a small bottle of extra-strong ammonia which almost tore off the top of my head when I sniffed it. When I suspected that any of his subjects were faking I had him tell them that the bottle contained perfume, and they inhaled it with obvious pleasure. No faker could have done that without wincing.
Selecting his subjects at random from among soldiers at Fort Dix, N. J., who were willing to undergo experiments, and from a group in a gymnasium in Philadelphia, Klein hypnotized deeply eight out of twenty-one. I am sure none were stooges. At Fort Dix he borrowed a deck of cards used in the U.S.O. clubhouse and, holding the backs toward a subject, picked out the nine of diamonds. Still showing only the back he said, “That’s a beautiful picture of Jeanette MacDonald.”
” Yes,” murmured the hypnotized soldier, “it’s a beautiful picture.”
Klein shuffled the deck, handed it to the subject, and said, “Pick out the picture.” Although the soldier was looking only at the backs, he promptly chose the nine of diamonds. I would have thought that the card had been marked in some way, but I had found the same sort of experiment recorded by psychologists, who used identical visiting cards. They believe the subject acquires abnormal ability to pick out and remember some infinitesimal marking that distinguishes the correct card. This would come in handy in gambling, but the power is lost the moment the subject awakes.
Klein told another hypnotized man, “When you awake you will not see y.our friend, here, until I say ‘Zero.’” He awoke the subject slowly and the friend stood in front of him. Asked where the friend was, the subject said, ” I don’t know.”
” I’ll show you a magic trick,” said Klein. He put a book on the friend’s head. “It’s floating in air.”
The subject was flabbergasted. ” It sure is,” he agreed.
“Zero!” said Klein.
“Gee,” said the subject to his friend; “where did you come from?”
” It was just like a magician’s show,” the soldier told me. “The book was floating, and first there was nobody there, and then there he was!”- TN PHILADELPHIA we tried an experiment that I had read about. Klein had never heard of it. A young man was hypnotized and his arm was made rigid. His eyes remained closed.
“You can feel nothing in that arm,” said Klein. He tested him with a lighted match, then tapped him on the arm. “Can you feel anything?” he asked. “No,” said the man.
As I had suggested, Klein tapped him rapidly 18 times on the arm in which he had no feeling. The subject had had no suggestion that he was to try to count the taps. After all, he couldn’t feel them!
“Now,” said Klein, “when you awake you will remember nothing, but when Mr. Gris-wold drops a package of matches on the floor you will pick up a pencil and write the number of times I tapped you on the arm.”
He awakened the man, we talked a few minutes. He said he felt all right. He didn’t remember anything. As if by accident I knocked a paper of matches off the table. He rose slowly, picked up a pencil, and wrote “15.” He had miscounted by 3.
“What’s that?” I asked. “Why did you do it?”
He waved a hand, bewildered. ” I don’t know. Those matches fell on the floor. I felt I had to write.”
“Why 15? Why not 16 or 18?”
He didn’t know.
Scientists have recorded a case in which a subject was told that when he awakened he would take the ace of spades out of a deck of cards and hand it to the hypnotist. When he awoke he said, ” I don’t remember anything but I have an impulse to hand you the ace of spades. It must be a post-hypnotic suggestion, and I won’t do it.”
He resisted the impulse, and he and the hypnotist went to their homes. A few hours later the hypnotist’s doorbell rang, and there stood the subject with the ace of spades. “It was driving me crazy,” he said. ” I went over and had the janitor unlock your office and got the darned thing.”
SOME danger lies in such experiments if performed by inexpert operators. At a public performance a man was hypnotized and told a black dog was following him, and, while hypnotized, he petted the imaginary dog and made it do imaginary tricks. The hypnotist forgot to remove the dog; the subject didn’t remember that he had been hypnotized and for six weeks had delusions of a black dog following him and thought he was losing his mind. Finally he mentioned it to a friend, who told him what had happened. The man went to a hypnotist and after two sessions the dog was banished.
It isn’t difficult to stop pain by telling the subject that when he awakes it will be gone. But careful hypnotists don’t try it. The pain might be a warning of some real trouble such as appendicitis.
Hypnotism has been used successfully in childbirth. But the expectant mother must be a good subject, and the hypnotist starts hypnotising her several months before the baby is due. Such cases are rare in the United States, but the treatment is said to be used rather frequently in Europe.
One psychologist told me of a husband and wife who came to him asking aid in a family quarrel. The husband accused the wife of infidelity, and she had consented to her husband’s proposal that she answer questions while in a hypnotic trance. After several trials she was hypnotized—tests were made to make sure—and the husband asked, “Have you ever been unfaithful to me?” She answered promptly, ” I have not. I swear it.” The husband shouted, “She’s lying!” and that ended the experiment.
I asked the scientist, “Was she?”
He smiled, “I wish I knew.” He coughed. ” From a scientific point of view, you understand.”
While it is true that, the first time, no one can be hypnotized against his will—that means, if he knows what’s going on. In crime and war, information might be obtained from good subjects by a trick that has been successful in laboratory experiments. The subject is asked to aid in an experiment in relaxation. A blood-pressure gauge is put on his arm to add to the illusion. He lies down and is told he will go quietly to sleep, and is given the sleep technique, not realizing he is being hypnotized.
Now, to gain information, the hypnotist could tell the subject that when he awoke he would never remember that he had been hypnotized, that hereafter every time the hypnotist said, “Good morning, it looks like a rainy day,” the subject would go into a trance. After the subject had been hypnotized several times the hypnotist would tell him he was his pal, that no one was listening, that certain information was necessary to save his friends. In one out of five criminals or prisoners of war it might work.
Both Wells and Estabrooks have used hypnotism to turn lazy students into industrious ones. Wells saved a star athlete who was not doing well in psychology by giving him post-hypnotic suggestions that he never would go to class unprepared.
Estabrooks had a subject who wanted to study regularly but who said he lacked the ability to concentrate. Under hypnosis Estabrooks told him to place in front of him every evening a card reading, ” I will concentrate until 10:30,” and that he would study until that time. It worked.
Robert W. White, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Harvard, told me of a widely known singer who, in the midst of a successful career, suddenly acquired stage fright at every performance. After four hypnotic treatments it vanished. Dr. White hypnotized the musician 25 times in 20 weeks and the stage fright seemed to be cured. However, after a year, it is returning and the singer has lost faith in hypnotism.
IN NEARLY every case stutterers speak naturally when hypnotized, but rarely does suggestion help them after they come out of the trance. However, mostly among children, “cures” have been recorded. Since most children between the ages of 8 and 12 are easily hypnotized, it might be used extensively to cure juvenile delinquency. Years ago a hypnotist in London reported that he had made cruel and disobedient children become “gentle, loving, and obedient.”
A practicing New York psychologist, who is treating mental maladjustments with hypnotism, reports that he is having success with introverts and persons with inferiority complexes, turning them into fearless fellows.
The methods of hypnotists vary slightly, but that used by Klein is typical. Some hold a bright object high above the eyes for a minute before telling the subject to close them. This tires the eyes. Klein has the sub’ ject lean back in a comfortable chair, relax, and fix his eyes on an imaginary spot on the ceiling. He speaks in a monotone, firmly, but with command in his voice: “You are going into a deep sleep. Your blood pressure will remain normal, your body temperature normal, you will awake feeling fine and refreshed. Now you are going to sleep. Close your eyes. They are becoming very heavy and you are going into a deep, deep sleep. You are very, very tired.” After a few minutes of that, he says, “Now I will count thirty, and at the count of thirty you will be in a deep sleep. Breathe deeply -deep— deep—deep. One—you are going deeper and deeper. Two—your eyelids are heavy. Deeper and deeper—” At the count of thirty he says, “Now your arms are stiff and rigid. You are in a deep sleep. You cannot raise your arms.” And if the subject is a good one he is in a trance.
WITH all the evidence at hand, why is hypnotism being kicked around? Why are there almost no reputable practitioners to whom you can take Junior, in order to make him study harder?
First, there is the opposition of well-qualified medical men such as Dr. Brill, who have conscientiously experimented with hypnotism and who firmly believe it isn’t worth using, and who say the “radical” psychologists overestimate its practical value. Second, the opposition of medical men who haven’t tried hypnotism, but who realize that if they did they’d be branded as quacks and witch-doctors.
Unprejudiced psychologists say that men like Dr. Brill may be right, but that nobody is sure. Hypnotism has proved itself in the psychological laboratory, but no widespread and intensive investigation has been made of its practical uses.
Dr. Victor H. Vogel, Assistant Chief, Division of Mental Hygiene, United States Health Service, who has experimented with “suggestibility,” has written, “The usefulness of hypnotism will increase as the skepticism and ignorance of its true nature diminish.” The head of a great state hospital who is afraid to have his name used, says, ” I would use hypnotism if I could, but I don’t dare. Prejudice is too intense.” Dr. Estabrooks told me, “There is no doubt that hypnotism may be of great aid in curing many types of human diseases. At present, however, it has practically no real value in America, because of popular prejudice, which sees it as something closely allied to black magic.”
So, until we destroy ignorance, there will lie idle a force that might be used for enormous good. But there is hope for enlightenment. The younger generation is coming out of colleges with no prejudice against hypnotism and with a real curiosity as to its practical possibilities. Our grandsons may take hypnotic treatment and become honor students, and our granddaughters may use it to make themselves actually enjoy a weight-reducing diet. Remember, you who believe hypnotism is witchcraft, your forefathers thought tomatoes were poison.