As entertaining as it can be to watch people fall under the spell of a stage hypnotist, those performers aren’t using the same techniques or procedures as a hypnotherapist. Instead, they’re using a combination of psychological tricks and stage hypnosis techniques like deception, peer pressure, and the simple power of suggestion in order to get audience members to act how they want.
Even though stage hypnosis is the kind of procedure that can successfully treat a condition, that doesn’t mean it’s fake. So how do stage hypnotists work? By using a craft that’s similar to that of a stage magician, a performance hypnotist can make an audience - and even their performers - believe they have mystical abilities.
- Photo: Curse of the Jade Scorpion / DreamWorks Pictures
They Condition People To Comply By Making Many Small Innocent Requests
Rather than push audience members into compliance stage, hypnotists start their shows with minor requests that audience members can't help but accept. A hypnotist will take a group of volunteers (which is already a sign of compliance) and ask them to "come on stage" and "sit down." The people who do what they're told the quickest tend to be the most willing to be hypnotized.
The early suggestions are easy to follow and they put the audience members in the habit of acquiescing to the hypnotist. After a few suggestions, the volunteers are in the groove of doing what they're told, which makes them more susceptible to ridiculous asks later in the show.
They Appeal To Vanity By Saying Only Intelligent People Can Be Hypnotized
Whether it's stage magic or hypnosis, the trick to getting an audience member on board with giving up their autonomy requires work. The easiest way to do this is to play into an audience's vanity. Everyone wants to think they're smart. Even if someone doesn't think they're the smartest person in the room, they also don't think they're on the bottom end of the spectrum.
To get an audience into the idea that they can be hypnotized, a stage hypnotist will announce that only intelligent, rational people can be hypnotized. This trick tells the audience there's actually something wrong with them if they don't allow themselves to fall under the spell of a hypnotist.
- Photo: Svengali / Warner Bros.
They Whisper To Participants To Play Along And Fake Hypnosis
If all else fails, a hypnotist will simply ask their volunteer to play along and pretend to be hypnotized. It's not the flashiest means of putting on a show, but it gets the job done. It's not clear how often this happens in the world of stage hypnotism, but it's definitely a method for putting on a successful show.
Sometimes a hypnotist doesn't even have to ask a volunteer to pretend to be hypnotized, one volunteer for the mentalist Kreskin has admitted they just pretended to be hypnotized because they felt they should play along even though they weren't actually hypnotized. When the volunteer admitted this to a friend, they were asked, "How do you know everyone else wasn’t just playing along?"
- Photo: The Devil Doll / MGM
They Issue A False Challenge
A false challenge is simply a way of confusing someone by giving them a task in a roundabout way. For instance, a stage hypnotist might say, "You cannot stand up," rather than simply saying, "Stand up." When a volunteer is told they can't stand up, they'll think about the statement long enough to make it appear as if they genuinely can't stand up.
If a hypnotist says, "Walk to your seat," the audience member will do as they're told. However, if the hypnotist says, "You can't walk to your seat because your feat are made of lead," the audience member will either wait until they're given the cue to walk, or they'll be so confused they'll stay put. Either way, it looks as if they're in a strange trance.