Suggestibility tests: what are they and why should we even do them, if we’re going to do them at all (in hypnosis)?
This was the question we asked in a recent video we published on YouTube , and it’s one that many, if not most hypnotists, can’t answer correctly.
In this blog post, we’ll spill the beans on everything. It will make your hypnosis work better … whether you’re a total beginner or already experienced.
Of course learning theory is important, but it’s practice that really makes a good hypnotist, so PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
Why Should I Use Suggestibility Tests?
For some hypnotists, the answer may be very straightforward: “To test for hypnotic suggestibility, of course”. We’re not going to say this is wrong. But it’s an incomplete answer.
You see, before you can begin to understand what these “tests” are and what they can be used for, we need to redefine a few concepts. We should also clear up some misconceptions that are widespread throughout the hypnosis world.
Hypnotic Suggestibility Demystified
Hypnosis began as a formal practice distinct from Mesmer’s “animal magnetism”. And it always seemed like there were some people that were susceptible to hypnosis, while others just couldn’t be hypnotized (whatever that means).
This idea was considered, by most hypnosis schools, to be the cold hard truth, throughout most of history. In more recent times it’s been disregarded as nonsense. But there are still hypnosis schools and trainers out there with that mindset.
There’s a good reason people thought like that, though. And here we will show you the real reason why some people respond really well to hypnosis, while others seem to be unhypnotizable … leaving you feeling like a failure.
We all know that rapport is extremely important for hypnosis to occur. For this explanation let’s imagine that rapport means your subject trusts and respects you. This is a factor that was widely ignored in the early days of hypnotism, but if you fail to establish rapport with your subject, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll accept any suggestions you give them. Learn more about rapport here.
However, rapport is just one part of the puzzle. Many variables are at stake when it comes to hypnosis, some of which aren’t always in your control. It’s important that you know how to handle any situation that may present itself, which is what we’re teaching you here.
This leads to the next point: Not every suggestion will work 100% of the time with every subject.
You still have to be fully congruent. You still have to act as if every suggestion will work perfectly. And when some do not … that’s OKAY.
This may be frightening to hear if you’re just beginning with hypnosis. “So you’re saying that even if I do everything right, there’s still a chance it won’t work?”.
Yes, this is exactly right. But keep calm and carry on reading.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand how that’s hardly even an issue. Even if some of your suggestions don’t work, your hypnosis will still turn out to be a success pretty much every time.
The issue that we face when defining hypnotic suggestibility is almost a semantic one. We use the word “hypnosis” to refer to several different cognitive phenomena, some of which are completely different from one another. Don’t forget that hypnosis is only a model, and like every model, its definition is not always 100% accurate.
Forgetting your name in hypnosis, for example, is a phenomenon that, neurologically speaking, is different from - let’s say - sticking your foot to the floor; yet, we call them both “hypnosis”. Though they can be achieved through similar procedures, in your brain, different processes are happening.
“But why do I care?”, you may be asking, “for all intents and purposes, calling them both hypnosis works just fine”. And you’re correct; however, examining how these phenomena differ may help to understand why sometimes we can get them to happen, and sometimes we can’t.
The 4 Types of Hypnotic Phenomena
You’ll now understand why, in some places, there are people that are deemed “good subjects” and others who are considered lousy subjects or even impossible to hypnotize.
It all comes down to the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, there are different kinds of hypnotic phenomena, and each occur in varying degrees of frequency throughout the population. Our friend and colleague James Tripp breaks them up into 4 different types, and they are:
1 - Ideomotor Phenomena:
This is the most commonly found type of phenomenon, and it’s what most suggestibility tests are based upon.
It refers to the kind of suggestion that involves some sort of unconscious movement of the body. The rule of thumb is: when you vividly imagine a part of your body moving, you’ll tend to unconsciously cause that motion to happen.
Side note: Have you ever seen an Ouija board? That board people gather around to supposedly communicate with ghosts?
While not ruling out the possibility of actual supernatural communications, we can safely say that there’s always a high chance of these alleged communications simply being ideomotor reflexes unconsciously caused by the very much alive people around the board.
2 - Ideo Sensory Phenomena:
If you’ve ever been to a stage hypnosis show, chances are you’ve seen a hypnotist making someone feel extremely hot, as if they were in a desert. Or freezing cold, as though they were in Antartica. Or perhaps you’ve even seen someone uncontrollably scratching their whole body after the hypnotist told them they were feeling itchy.
These are all ideo sensory phenomena. Suggestions that cause a person to perceive different sensations in their body.
This type of phenomenon is very important for the work of many hypnotherapists, as hypnotic pain control, used to aid clients suffering from a variety of medical conditions, is considered an ideosensory phenomenon.
3 - Ideo Emotional Phenomena:
Have you ever seen a hypnotized person demonstrate an intense emotional state? Maybe some guy thinks he just won the lottery or is riding the scariest roller coaster in the world. Suggestions to cause emotional responses in hypnosis are deemed ideo emotional phenomena.
4 - Ideo Cognitive Phenomena:
Out of all these 4 types of hypnotic phenomena, this is by far the most impressive to onlookers.
Hallucinations, amnesia, and even forgetting one’s name or a number, are the kind of suggestions that are categorized as ideo cognitive phenomena. Mental processes that occur through imagination and involvement in the process of hypnosis. They are usually the most rare of all four types.
Now, back to the initial question: why does this even matter?
It's simple, really. Back in the old days, when hypnotists used to determine how susceptible a person was to hypnosis, they didn’t factor in rapport and they ignored the types of suggestions used.
And now you can see the problem with using these so-called “suggestibility tests'' to determine whether a person will respond well to hypnosis or not. They are pretty much all based on ideomotor suggestions, and while it’s good to know if they’ll respond well to them, it doesn’t say much about how well they’ll respond to other types of suggestions.
For some reason, there are people that you’ll hypnotize who will respond very well to suggestibility tests, but they won’t be able to, for example, forget their name. There will even be people who will “fail” all of your tests, and still, you’ll get them to hallucinate.
These are different kinds of processes, and some people’s brains may have an easier time making one of them happen, rather than another. It varies throughout the population almost like a personality trait.
This is precisely why we shouldn’t consider some kinds of phenomena “harder” or “easier”. Just because a hallucination, for example, is a more rare kind of occurrence than - let’s say - arm levitation, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually more difficult, neurologically speaking.
As we said, some people can hallucinate even if they don’t “pass” a single suggestibility test. It’s a more accurate description to classify these phenomena as simply more or less common, and not more or less difficult.
This now begs the question: Why should you even bother doing suggestibility tests? If they’re not very useful for getting information about the subject, then they’re basically worthless, right?
No. They have immense value.
Suggestibility tests are tremendously important for one reason. This is an aspect of hypnosis that most hypnotists aren’t even aware of; yet, it’s possibly the most fundamental thing about direct hypnosis and hypnotic phenomena. After learning this, you’ll never struggle with so-called “bad” hypnotic subjects again.
Heteroaction and Homoaction
These two terms were coined by Dr. André Muller Weitzenhoffer, psychologist and one of the most important researchers in the field of hypnosis in the 20th century.
The basic gist is this:
When a person successfully achieves a certain hypnotic phenomenon or suggestion, they become more likely to achieve that same suggestion again or even a different one. They become more “suggestible”.
Let’s say we do the magnetic fingers suggestibility test (explained below). If the subject shows a good response they become more likely to accept the suggestions that come afterwards.
PAY ATTENTION: We only said that they become more likely. Probability is not certainty. We’re not saying any later suggestion will work. We’re just saying it’s more likely because of the success of a prior suggestion.
When a person accepts a certain suggestion, thus becoming more likely to successfully perform it again in the future, we call that homoaction; and similarly, when they become more prone to accept a suggestion that is different from the one they accepted before, we call that heteroaction. Different words, same basic premise.
What that means is if you do just a few of these tests before you do an induction or whatever you’re planning to do in hypnosis, it’ll be a much easier job than if you had simply jumped right into it. And that is the main reason why these tests have value.
Another reason to use these tests is to check if you’re dealing with a person who responds well to ideomotor suggestions. Since most suggestibility tests are ideomotor exercises, that is one way to do it. If you get a good response, you might want to consider utilizing shock inductions and ideomotor signals later on.
Hopefully, you are now beginning to understand how hypnosis is an incredibly subjective process, that each of us experience in our own manner. Such an experience cannot be fully measured by a few mechanical exercises; but these exercises can, however, be used to prepare the subjects’s mindset and smooth the way towards a powerful hypnotic trance.
Foolproof Suggestibility Tests
A little disclaimer: Our intention with this article is not to teach you step-by-step how to hypnotize someone. Instead we’re teaching you the core principles of hypnosis which all the techniques derive from.
This is what we do at the Mike Mandel Hypnosis Academy, which is the reason why our students excel. Learn these principles, practice them, and eventually, you’ll be capable of developing your own methods.
When To Use Suggestibility Tests
There are two environments in which formal hypnosis usually happens: the stage and the clinic. You can do hypnosis on the street or at a party too, but the principles are basically the same. Calibrate the environment and you’ll know what to do.
It’s most of all on the stage that suggestibility tests really do have a “test” component to them,..
You see, as a stage hypnotist, you want your show to be fun and entertaining, with crazy hypnotic phenomena happening all over. It’s only rational that you’ll want only the most appropriate subjects to come up on stage. These are subjects that aren’t afraid of hypnosis and want to have fun and be a part of the show.
We do tests on stage to select the people that, at that moment, are more receptive to suggestions. This doesn’t make these people “good” subjects and non-responders “bad” subjects. That’s because we’re only talking about the subjects being more appropriate for the specific purpose of a stage show at that moment in time.
So by “testing” stage subjects you build heteroaction, but you also send non-responders back to the audience. In therapy you’re not sending anyone back to any audience. You’re adapting to what happens with one specific client.
Remember: The purpose of suggestibility tests, especially in a therapeutic setting, is to prepare the subject’s mindset, build momentum with heteroaction and smooth the way towards a powerful hypnotic trance. You certainly don’t have to do suggestibility tests in therapy, but if you do use them, that’s why you would.
If you’re not yet sure about them - perhaps afraid that they’ll fail - keep on reading and find out how you’ll always get them to be (or at least perceived as) a success.
Digital and Analog Tests
These are the two kinds of tests that we use to start off a hypnosis session. It’s important that you know the difference between them in order to properly calibrate your subject, as well as to determine what you’ll do next.
Analog tests are tests from which you can get a wide range of responses. You could get no response, and extreme response, or anything in-between. Digital or binary tests, on the other hand, are tests which, from the subject’s perspective, can only work or not work.
Let’s go through two very useful analog tests and one classic digital test, which is all you need to start. Even if you already know these, keep reading because you’ll better understand how to apply them in your hypnosis sessions.
Bear in mind: when you do these tests, ALWAYS remove the suggestions afterwards. Even if they don’t seem to work, say “your hands are normal again”, or something to that effect. And use that moment to reinforce the suggestion “You are an excellent hypnotic subject”.
The Magnetic Fingers Test
Position your hands as shown in the image; fingers interlaced, palms pressed together, thumbs crossed, index fingers stretched out. Stare at your fingers, observe the space between your fingers and imagine there is a magnetic force pulling those fingers together. Watch them move closer and closer together, as the magnetic force pulls harder and harder.
IMPORTANT: Don’t have the subject do it yet. Show them first, then ask them to do it.
That’s because this test, like most analog tests others, has a little built in secret. You see, you’re not always going to get a hypnotic response on the very first try with every subject, but their fingers will move a little closer together anyway.
This is because the way their hands are positioned causes the muscles to fatigue, thus creating a tendency for the fingers to move together without the influence of any suggestion.
That’s the secret of almost all the suggestibility tests we do. There is a physiological reason why they’re prone to work, even without suggestions. There is a biomechanical leverage working on your behalf. But of course that leverage won’t usually be enough to make the fingers move all the way together. It is, however, plenty of leverage to get that hypnotic ball rolling.
If they stretch out their fingers while you’re still explaining, they’ll feel them pulling together before you’ve given any suggestions that they would do so, and so they’ll figure out what’s going on. Demonstrate first, then have them start doing it.
Any response you get, and I mean ANY response, is a good one. Even if their fingers move just a few millimeters, that’s already enough.
“Enough for what?”, you might ask, “Wasn’t it probably just a physiological response?”.
You’re right, but the subject doesn’t know that. For heteroaction to occur, all that matters is that they PERCEIVE that movement as a hypnotic response. This is an analog test, and any response can easily be perceived as hypnotic.
So smile and tell them “You’re an amazing hypnotic subject!”. Value any response you get. If you were to repeat the same test, you’d almost certainly see their fingers moving closer together as you’re starting to elicit a truly hypnotic response.
As their fingers are pulling together, calibrate the subject and suggest that their fingers move closer and closer together, as the magnetic force gets stronger and stronger, until they touch. If they don’t touch, push them together yourself and act as though that’s exactly what you expected.
The Dictionary and Balloon Test
You’ve done one test now, and heteroaction has started to work on your behalf. Now do another one to make it even more powerful. The more tests you stack on top of one another, the greater is the momentum you build towards a powerful hypnotic experience for the subject.
The Dictionary and Balloon is another analog test, which means there is a wide range of possible results you can get. But again, any one of them is a good one as long as they’re perceived by the subject as such.
Have them close their eyes and stretch out their arms palm down. Ask them whether they’re right or left handed, and tell them to turn their non-dominant hand all the over, palm up.
Now, pre-frame that they’re holding a very heavy dictionary with that turned-over hand. You can even put your hand on top of their hand with a very slight downward nudge, but not enough to seem like you’re pushing.
Then, pre-frame that there’s a big, colorful, helium balloon tied to their middle finger on the other hand, and as you’re pre-framing it, give a little tap to the underside of that hand (their palm) to get it to start moving up as you suggest the feeling of the balloon pulling it up.
With heteroaction kicking in, suggest that the dictionary is getting heavier and heavier as their hand pulls down, and that the balloon is getting lighter and lighter, lifting their other hand up.
You’ve got two things working in your favour besides the suggestions. First, with the subject’s eyes closed, as they run the “dictionary” hand “all the way over palm-up”, the palm tends to drop slightly. The second helpful factor is muscle fatigue. The palm-up hand is in a more awkward position, and wants to drop more than the palm-down (balloon) hand.
This is a test that almost always results in a convincing response, if you frame it correctly. And once you get a response you tell the subject, “Open your eyes!”, and their own observation ratifies the experience.
The Hands Clasp Test
And finally, the famous hands clasp test.Unlike the others, this is a digital test, which means there is no wide range of possible results. From the subject’s point of view (which is the only one that matters), it either works or it doesn’t (in which case, you'll react indifferently). But when it does work, you can expect to zone them through the floor.
Tell them to put their hands together, interlace their fingers as in the image and squeeze tightly. Then tell them to imagine whatever they want, as long as it’s something that will stick their hands tightly together. Give them options: could be glue, magnets, two iron bars melting and fusing together, or something that they’ll come up with on their own.
Say that on the count of three, they will try to pull them apart, only to realize that the more they try, the tighter they lock together.
Move fast! Don’t make the mistake of taking too long and giving them time to analyze the situation. Watch the demonstration at the end of this blog post to see how it works.
This test has a variant, which involves telling the subject to fully extend their arms and to close their eyes while doing it.
This version tremendously increases the biomechanical leverage of this test. When you fully extend your arms, you’re pulling from the shoulders, which makes it nearly impossible to separate the hands.
Even if they do end up separating their hands, chances are they will still be impressed by the difficulty they had in doing so. Just like with the other tests, what really happened doesn’t matter as much as how they PERCEIVED it. It’s an almost infallible test.
This has advantages and disadvantages.
Which Test Should I Do First?
The answer is ... whichever you want.
Remember: principles, not rules. Context is everything in hypnosis, and if you feel like you should start with a certain test, go for it.
We do have a few suggestions, though.
To build heteroaction, the general principle is you want the very first tests to be at least perceived as successful by the subject. On stage, using the hand clasp test first is preferable because you’ll quickly select your very best subjects for the show while building heteroaction.
Magnetic Fingers has the advantage of having a strong physiological tendency to work, while still being very clear when a hypnotic ideomotor response is taking place. It’s an analog test, making it ideal for calibrating the subject’s responses while building heteroaction at the same time. This is why so many hypnotists love this test, and even use it as an induction.
However, if you haven’t had a lot of practice yet, or for some reason you’re not willing to take the risk of it not working, you might want to start with the (almost) infallible variation of the hands clasp test, with their arms fully extended.
This makes it almost certain that you’re off to a good start, with heteroaction being built right from the beginning and the subject’s expectancy rising high after that experience. The only downside is you aren’t going to get any information as to whether they’re prone to respond well or not, since it’s only a biomechanical trick.
In this case, calibrate by observing external trance indicators (ETIs) and move on to analog tests.
To calibrate means to observe how the subject is reacting, and how it compares to whatever baseline you started with. It could be by observing external trance indicators (ETIs) like eyelids fluttering, breathing changes and whatnot, but also by observing how well they’re responding to suggestibility tests.
The order in which you’ll do these tests will be determined by your calibration. Once you have enough practice, you’ll easily know when to move on to a more difficult test, like the regular Hands Clasp test, as well as when to take a step back and do a Dictionary and Balloon instead.
There will even be times when they won’t be showing any results whatsoever, but just by looking at them, you’ll know: “They’re ready. They’re going into trance”, and jump right into an induction.
But you’ll never get to this level unless you PRACTICE the things you’ve learned here today. So start getting good NOW, and take any chance you can get to practice these tests and everything else you know.
Heteroaction and Homoaction in the Dave Elman Induction
One of the most popular Youtube videos on our channel is our Dave Elman Induction tutorial.
The Dave Elman Induction is an interesting one. It doesn’t require any deepener afterwards because it has the potential to take you right into a somnambulistic trance by itself. It’s taught by many hypnosis schools making it one of the most popular inductions.
Nonetheless, nobody really talks about what makes it so powerful.
You’ve just read a whole article about suggestibility tests and how to use them to create heteroaction and homoaction, but if for some reason you haven’t yet realized how important these principles are, let’s observe them happening in the Dave Elman Induction.
As you can see, this induction is nothing more than a series of suggestions about relaxation stacked on top of one another. Starting with the eye muscles, the hypnotist continuously suggests that the subject’s entire body is relaxing. This is a perfect demonstration of how homoaction works.
Every time they imagine their entire body relaxing, the deeper that relaxation becomes, and the deeper it becomes, the more effective the hypnotist’s suggestions get. From eye catalepsy, to fractionation, to the hand drop test, homoaction was working to make that trance more and more deep.
Then, when it’s time for the number block test, heteroaction takes place, and a phenomenon that would be nearly impossible without previous preparation becomes easily obtainable.
If you didn’t know this induction already, take the time to learn it. Coupled with suggestibility tests, you can use it to hypnotize almost anyone in no time.
Hypnotic Suggestibility Tests Demonstration
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