a discussion on covert hypnosis and free will

Hypnosis & Will Survey–My Responses

Hypnosis & Will–My Responses

In my recent post, Hypnosis & Will: Have You Changed Your Mind?, I looked at how two videos changed the beliefs of the majority of people watching. they went from the idea that you can’t hypnotize someone against their will, to the idea that you can!

Here are some of their comments and my responses…

“Against Their Will” vs. “Without Their Knowledge”

Can a person be hypnotized against their will?
Comment: No, but we can hypnotize someone secretly without getting caught using covert hypnotic techniques.

2. Can a person be made to do something against their will in hypnosis?
Comment: No, but we can make them do something they would not normally do by utilizing covert hypnosis.

3. What is shown in the videos is not hypnosis!
Comment: I’ve study mentalism for many years and I enjoy watching Derren Brown’s performance. Although some of Derren’s routine are performed by magic techniques, I notice that the Russian Scam one was performed by some covert hypnotic techniques like the mirroring technique, the handshake induction, the hypnotic gaze induction, etc. Therefore, I believe that the Russian Scam routine IS hypnosis.

My Response:

What is the distinction to be made between hypnotizing someone against their will and doing it without their knowledge? And is there a distinction between “against their will” and “something they wouldn’t normally do?” I think there is.

Many people made the point that it’s different to get someone to do something they hadn’t planned to do vs. something they would object to doing. I don’t plan to go to the store today and buy an apple. But I don’t object to it in any meaningful way. If you were trying to get me to buy an apple, it would be much easier than trying to get me to rob a bank (something I would object to on several grounds).

But what about the Russian Scam video? If we accept it on face value, does it meet the criteria for making someone do something against their will? I think most people would agree that handing a complete stranger their wallet would be something they would not typically choose to do.

If you do not think that qualifies as “against someone’s will,” I’d like to know what you think would be. Drop me a note and let me know what, for you, would be absolute proof that hypnosis could make someone do something against their will. Make the subject line “Against Their Will.”

Drop me a line…

Nominalizations And Motivations

1. Can a person be hypnotized against their will?
Comment: The techniques used are confusion techniques and it really has less to do with “will” and more to do with knowledge. To say the subjects were hypnotized or did something against their will infers that they knew what was going to happen, the didn’t want to have it happen, and they were made to do it anyway. That is not the case in either of the videos.

2. Can a person be made to do something against their will in hypnosis?
Comment: Yes and No. Again, we must define “will.” Both videos showed people being made to do things that we believe they didn’t “want” to do, but it is not that simple. I do believe you can get someone to do something without their knowledge (the whole point of conversational or covert), but to say it has to do with “will” is not fully accurate. The guy who gave away his belongings was totally confused, and in that instant we believe that he would not have wanted to give them away as he did, but Derren is one of the best at using confusion techniques and NLP (after all, he got the guy to do it twice!). I would still argue that it wasn’t about will, it was about knowledge.

3. What is shown in the videos is not hypnosis!

Comment: If Hypnosis is a highly suggestible state (more suggestible than in a normal, conscious state), then what we saw was hypnosis.

My Response:

Yes, we must define the word “will.” That’s spot on. I deliberately used that word in my questions because it’s useful to struggle with the idea of what ‘will’ means. It’s highly important, if you want to help folks with hypnosis and NLP.

What if “against your will” means doing something you don’t want to do, you know is going to happen, but you do it anyway? If you don’t know it’s going to happen, it’s without your knowledge–not against your will. That’s a slippery slope.

Under this definition of the word will, you could hypnotize someone, have them shoot a random stranger and it wouldn’t be considered “against the will” of the person who was hypnotized.

Also, how do you define “knowledge?” Would you say the fellow in the Derren Brown video didn’t know he was giving away his wallet, watch etc.? I’d say he knew (although he may not have known he was hypnotized). Is it important when he acquired that knowledge?

When examined closely, words like “knowledge” and “will” are indefinable. In NLP terms they are what’s called nominalizations. Whether or not they are definable; they are very useful!

If a client comes to us for help in stopping biting their nails, what are they really asking? They know they want to stop, they know (sometimes) when they are about to bite their nails but they do it anyway! Are they doing something against their own will? Is that even possible?

I think it’s not quite that simple…

Human beings are not monolithic with only one motivation running at a time. They may have conflicting motivations–bite nails vs. don’t bite nails. Does that mean they have two wills about biting nails? If so, it means that we, as hypnotherapists, are attempting to get them to do something against their will (at least one of their “wills”) by helping them stop. How can we claim we can’t make someone do something against their will and then claim we can help them stop biting their nails? That is a fundamental question, to me.

How badly Do They Not Want To Do It?

1. Can a person be hypnotized against their will?
Comment: I’ve been taught that you can’t hypnotize anyone against their will, but after watching the videos, it appears that I was wrong. However, in the second video, the hypnotist asks a question and gets an affirmative reply, which could be taken as permission. I personally think that’s going way out there to get that interpretation. Interesting and food for thought.

2. Can a person be made to do something against their will in hypnosis?
Comment: There was nothing that threatened the man and woman, nor did it go against any moral codes. Perhaps not in their best interests.

3. What is shown in the videos is not hypnosis!
Agree (I believe this person misread the question)

My Response:

I’m happy to see many people question the definition of the word will. Sure, you can define “will” as different from “moral code,” “threat,” or “best interest.” But are we splitting hairs here? I think most of us would agree that we’d like not to be made to do things against our morals or against our best interests–we don’t want to have to do things we don’t want to do! That might be a slightly better wording of the question… “Can hypnosis make a person do something they don’t want to do?”

Many people seem to think “Yes, as long as it’s not something they really don’t want to do.”

Will vs. Imagination

1. Can a person be hypnotized against their will?

2. Can a person be made to do something against their will in hypnosis?
Comment: both questions one and two are subject to the law of the imagination, which states “when the WILL and the IMAGINATION come into conflict, it is the IMAGINATION that always wins. Will is not in the way if you enter from the imagination the mind is an open door to a dimly lit room with lots of files and push button controls, be careful what you do.

3. What is shown in the videos is not hypnosis!
Comment: The marks mind focused on what the leader wants it to be and every thing else fades away….looks like hypnosis by the definitions I’ve seen.

My Response:

I’ve heard hypnosis instructors say the same thing about the will and the imagination. Hey, I understand they may be trying to make a point in a particular context–that of hypnotic suggestion. But let’s examine this statement more closely…

Does this mean that if we simply imagine something, it will automatically and always overcome even our strongest willpower? I don’t think so. Right now, I’m imagining that I’m going to pick up my boy in a couple of hours. I’m imagining giving him $600 and an ice cream sandwich…

…Now, I’ve decided to use my willpower to overcome that imagination. We’ll see which wins–will or imagination. (Update: he did not get $600 nor an ice cream sandwich)

Now, I do understand that the more vividly you create an imagination, the more emotion you put in to it, the more fully you step in to that scenario, the more powerful it can become as a suggestion. But did Derren Brown spend any time doing that? No. What “imagination” did Derren Brown elicit that made the man overcome his will and give him the wallet?

You’re Full Of Bull

1. Can a person be hypnotized against their will?

2. Can a person be made to do something against their will in hypnosis?

3. What is shown in the videos is not hypnosis!
Comment: these videos are complete BS, I mean look at them. Bandler visited this years ago, money and weapons work much better. These videos are so bad to the point that I’m going to unsubscribe from your list because I see that this is a poor marketing attempt by you. Cheers

My Response:


About Bandler. If I recall, Bandler commented that in certain situations, it is easier to get people to do things by threatening them or giving them money than to try to force them via hypnosis. I agree. I am not seeking to learn the easiest or most effective way to make people do things they don’t want to do. I’m interested in understanding hypnosis more completely.

What I’m not interested in is accepting the party line (as one of my readers put it) about hypnosis–especially when it doesn’t make sense to me. Some folks have simply robotically repeated what they’ve been taught. Some even get very upset when you ask a simple question–is what we’ve been taught true?

As for me, I love exploring hypnosis and NLP. The kinds of things you and I have written about here are the kinds of things I think about. They are the subject of hundreds of hours of study, thought and late night conversations with my best friends. They are my passion.

I’ve decided it’s better for me to focus on what I’m passionate about. I’ll be writing more about pushing the limits–about what is possible, about what sacred cows about hypnosis we can disprove. For those who are interested, I am grateful for your participation.

If you don’t feel you can learn anything here, or contribute, feel free to move along. Good luck.


About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. Pingback: NLP & Hypnosis Blog » Hypnosis & Will: Have You Changed Your Mind?
  2. Hi Keith,
    I am happy to see you address these matters. Much of what we see in stage hypnosis is stark evidence that people under ‘trance’ can and will do many things suggested by the hypnotist that they would never chose to do or would even do under threats. Such as, performing in front of a large audience, or acting like they see or smell or hear things that are not there.
    The whole matter of ‘trance’ and the actions done by those in ‘trance’ scares me. I quit doing hypnosis for years because I did not understand what was happening. It still is intriguing to me, however. The mind is capable of many odd things. I had a patient one day years ago who came to the ER screaming that she was about to have her baby and to ‘get me to the delivery room hurry,, hurry’. She was not even pregnant! She had 3-4 members of her family believing she needed immediate Medical attention. If one is capable of that kind of imaginary event on their own, perhaps a hypnotic suggestion can do similarly.
    Apparently, the concept of ‘will’ is largely bypassed when the critical thinking is bypassed. Except for ‘significant’ moral transgressions.
    Things must be in ‘the right setting’. The Muslim suicidal terrorists must be in a form of hypnosis to carry out their acts. But killing someone in ‘self-defense’ may be possible if the settings are done ‘right’, also.

    Keep up your good work.

    Best regards, John

  3. John,
    It’s wonderful to see you here posting on the blog after getting to meet you in person.

    I’ve seen a few hypnosis shows and I don’t beleive I’ve seen a person do anything they would not chose to do–even under threat.

    Sure, people perform in a way they might be unable to “normally.” For instance, I think many people are not hams and would balk at doing silly things in front of an audience. Perhaps they’d like to though! Hypnosis gives them the chance and the perfect excuse. “Hey, I was hypnotized!”

    I think you’re absolutely right about “the right setting.” The frame, or filter through which we view a situation can radically change how we act in that situation. It’s so powerful I just finished a post on it…

    The Frame Game

    Of course, this kind of framing can easily happen with or without hypnosis.

    John, if you’ve seen some things done during stage hypnosis that you believe someone wouldn’t do even under threat, I’d like to hear about it.


  4. Keith

    This has nothing to do with going against a persons will. The person will only object to the suggestion, no matter how induced or delivered, only when the inner mind see the means of induction and suggestion as a threat to its life physically, mentally, socially. As long as things are presented to the mind in a way there is to threat, no potential harm, the inner mind of the person will not object to what is being asked of them to do while in any form or level of trance.

    You can even cause a person to do something they have obsolute thoughts and beliefs against, as long as you present it to them in ways that by-pass all their potential objection mental filters. This is done all the time in hypnosis and NLP, as will as sales, marketing, negotiations, mediations and so on. People do this every day. What is the confusion on this?

  5. Tom,
    Good to hear from you. How do you know what you say is true? In other words, how do you know the mind will only reject suggestion the inner mind sees as a threat?

    Is it simply what you’ve read or been taught or do you have some specific evidence from experience?

    Keep in mind it’s a “black swan” proposition–disproved by a single counter example.


  6. Hello Keith, –I found this discussion very interesting.
    For me, a scam involves confusing a person about what their will really is. As an example, when I was young, inexperienced, and in a foreign country, I was scammed by a person who was able to talk me into parting with a significant amount of money. He played upon my loneliness and my desire for friendship by practicing French with me and by telling me that he belonged to the church that I was planning to enter on that Sunday morning. He was good at keeping the talk going and at working the idea that he just needed some money to buy some groceries for his family, or something like that. He would be back and get the money back to me. It’s been too many years for me to remember how he put it all together. What I do remember is how foolish I felt right after he left, and I knew that I had been duped. What I didn’t realize was how strong my will had been to make a friend, because I felt isolated, and how that could overcome my will to keep my money.

    In the case of the Russian scam, the confusion, I think, had to do with authority and smooth execution. The scammer acted in an authoritative and confident manner. For many of us, our will is geared towards obeying and pleasing other people who are in positions of authority. If a policeman comes up to me and asks for my wallet and ID, I may give it to him before thinking about questioning him, simply because he has the authority (maybe he isn’t even a policeman). When one is scammed, I think it is because one is acting according to a certain perceived reality at the moment. He is unable to analyze that preconception because he is confused about his own desires and by the authority, confidence, and quickness of the scammer.

  7. Keith,

    Your hunches are on target. After reading the recently published book “A Critical History of Hypnotism” © 2008 by Saul Rosenfeld, one will get a very clear idea of what hypnosis is, what hypnosis is not, and how it works!

    All the best,

    Dr. Regal
    Atlanta, GA

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