There are two schools of thought about what actually happens psychologically.
It has been well established that hypnosis is an ability of the subject. It has essentially nothing to do with the hypnotist, and in fact even unskilled trainees, students, or the subject themselves can hypnotize a person with high hypnotic ability.
- Social-cognitive theory. Basically, the act represents a very special social situation in which you're allowed to do outrageous things with no consequences. It is socially understood that that isn't "really" you, and afterwards you can claim amnesia or loss of control or whatever and you'll never be blamed for acting like that. This isn't exactly "they're all faking", because there is also an extreme social pressure to do what the hypnotist says and not be a buzzkill for everyone else. So, the combination of the pressure and the opportunity give rise to all the things you see.
- Dissociation theory. Basically, you have two aspects of your consciousness: The everyday thinking and feeling part you call "I", and a hidden observer in the back of your mind that just kind of watches everything. Normally you identify with the I, and have only a faint awareness of the observer. In hypnosis you become the observer - which is an altered state of consciousness - and don't worry so much about the I. The observer cares far less about your social standing, personal qualms, etc, and just notes everything going on. So it is more likely to do far-out stuff, similar to what you might do when you're drunk, high, in a dream, etc (all of which are other altered states of consciousness).
Hypnotists are very used to people not believing them (and, really, it's a ton of fun to make a believer out of those sorts of people), but people just get nasty about it. Still, I'm going to address a few points that we've looked at in greater detail:
- Yes, hypnosis is real but comes from the person being hypnotized and not the hypnotist.
- No, no one is a victim. Although they are in a hypnotic state, they are not helpless. Their inhibitions are lowered, and it's easier to convince them of things outside of their normal reality. But they're never victims. Just volunteers.
- The simple truth is, some people are more easily hypnotized than others, and that's why they get selected in thos shows.
- When it doesn't work for what ever reason the people tend to be the loudest "Oh my god, hypnosis is fake because it didn't work for me!" Yet you will always find people trying to speak up saying "It worked for me!" Sadly, they get shouted down as liars.
The most interesting theory I've heard comes from the psychological theory of bicamerilism.
The theory states that the mind is 'two chambered' . This corresponds to the brain's two hemispheres. The author essentially argues that hypnosis is tapping into the ancient human capability to receive commands from one part of the brain, and listen to them with the other. It's far more than I can explain here, and it's a far out theory but not as dubious as it first sounds, the guy who invented it was a Princeton psychologist.
It boils down to these factors:
- The only people who volunteer for a stage show are those who want to entertain an audience. People who don't want to act in outlandish ways would never volunteer.
- The hypnotist narrows down the selection by asking non-responsive individuals to leave the stage.
- The audience cheers and applauds whenever something outrageous happens, which encourages the volunteers to be even more outrageous.
- An authority figure telling people what to do allows those people to deny responsibility for their own actions.
- Finally, hypnosis -- a state of mind where critical thinking is suspended -- allows people to accept suggestions they wouldn't normally accept.