1. What were the early beliefs about hypnotism?
  2. How did hypnotism contribute to the development of personality theory?
  3. What was the relationship between hypnotism and the unconscious determinants of behavior?
  4. How did the explanation of the causes of hypnotism change from Mesmerism to suggestibility?


Hypnotism provides the background for motivation psychology. Itís discovery spoke to internal forces within humans, which propelled one into involuntary action. Very early, hypnotism and magnetism were associated together as mysterious natural forces. Paracelsus in the 16th century believed that magnets influenced the body. The term "animal magnetism, proposed by Van Helmont, held that magnetic fluids coming from everyone could influence the minds and bodies of others. There were reports of a mysterious curing of the ill by the "laying on of hands," in the 17th century and later. But all of these efforts were outside of science.

A Viennese physician, Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), discovered how to produce these cures which came to be known as "mesmerism." He thought that some electrical or magnetic principle permeated the universe. He discovered he could produce an hypnotic trance by using magnets to stroke bodies. In 1776 he gave up the magnets and used the term "animal magnetism" as the cause the phenomenon. Mesmer believed that by using his own body as a magnet, he could cure neurotic patients .

In Paris, Mesmer conducted numerous cures and constructed what was called a baquet, an oak chest with chemicals and iron pieces. People sat in a circle around the baquet, joining hands and, with various hocus-pocus incantations, some would fall into a deep sleep. Medical authorities set up a committee to investigate this phenomenon but came to no definitive conclusions. Mesmer himself did not know how it occurred. Mesmerism (or hypnotism) thus remained a pseudo-scientific field quite similar to that of phrenology -- both not quite new fields of science, yet later considered important areas in the understanding of psychological phenomenon.


Early in the nineteenth century, John Elliotson, a professor of medicine and senior physician at the University College in London, was interested in new approaches to dealing with medical problems. He believed that medical training needed to be associated with the hospital for demonstration and learning possibilities. He was the first in England to use the stethoscope, which others derided as "hocus-pocus." And he used drugs in new ways. After observing a demonstration of hypnotism, he started using it in medical practices. This led in 1837 to considerable consternation among his colleagues that the reputation of the university was being damaged, and he resigned.

But Elliotson was determined to make a scientific study of this phenomenon. There were others working independently. In 1843 Elliotson began a journal for mesmerism. Later, when asked to deliver the Harvey lectures, he spoke on medical opposition to great medical discoveries.

In 1842, W.S. Ward reported that he had amputated the leg of a patient who was under an hypnotic trance, and the patient felt no pain. Medical colleagues were aghast and claimed it could not be true. After all, pain was a natural phenomenon and the absence of it was considered immoral. Nevertheless, clinics were opened throughout Great Britain, with one doctor claiming that he had performed 200 painless operations.

Interest in hypnotism, therefore, was originally centered in therapeutic purposes, to create miraculous cures. But the anesthetic possibilities soon became predominant. Using hypnotism as an anesthetic agent, however, was thwarted by contemporaneous developments in America in the same decade of the 1840ís. Dentists discovered that the use of various gases, ether, nitrous oxide, etc. were more reliable sources of anesthesia than was hypnotism.

Also in America, the rise of spiritualism and the mysterious rappings on tables frequently produced by a "medium" who possessed the powers to communicate with the dead, catapulted into a public craze. The close association of clairvoyance and Mesmerís baquet further tainted hypnotism with a bad reputation.

In India, James Esdaile was more successful in using hypnotism for anesthetic purposes and able to obtain the support of the government (as opposed to the medical profession) in further research and practice in reducing pain through this method. Ether and chloroform suffered from frequent bad after effects and, when administered improperly, could lead to death. Nevertheless, the Congress of the United States in 1853 sought to award a prize to the discoverer of ether as the first anesthetic Ė something to which Esdaile made objection, claiming that mesmerism had priority.


James Braid, an English physician, was the first, as some claim, to discover "hypnotism," which he called a "nervous sleep," or neurohypnology. He was the first to "discover" hypnotism because his theory maintained that the trance state was a physiological phenomenon, not one produced by the powers of the mesmerist as in mesmerism. The phenomenon is the same Ė a sleep like trance that the subject falls into which essentially forestalls the usual reflexive responses one might ordinarily find under the waking state.

Braid had observed at a Manchester demonstration, the trance-like state produced by Lafontaine. Braid was loud in his denunciation of this "fraud," and was supported by his medical colleagues. But at subsequent demonstrations, Braid became convinced that there was something real going on. The subject did not react when a pin was forced under her nails, producing no pain. And when the eyelids were forced open, the pupils, instead of dilating to the light, remained contracted as two small points. Clearly, something more than stooges cooperating with a leader was at work here.

Trying to bring to bare some kind of respectable scientific explanation, Braid first concluded that the phenomenon was really a sleep produced by the paralyzing effects of the levator eyelid muscles when held in a long fixed stare.

Braid gradually shifted from the notion of a "fixed stare," to a "fixed attention," gradually moving from the physiological to the psychological explanation. Even later he moved towards recognizing that "suggestion" was involved -- eventually the current explanation. Thus, the notion of this phenomenon changed from the powers of the person of the hypnotist (called Messmerism), to physiological powers (hypnotism) to psychological powers (suggestibility). This latter notion became one of the basic principles of social psychology, that individuals can be influenced by the suggestion of others. This principle is basic to understanding mob rule, political and religious mass meetings and juries influenced by the opinion of others.

Two schools of thought prevailed at the end of the century. One was based on the work of Charcot in Paris at the Salpetriere and his famous neurological clinic. The other was in the town of Nancy, to the east of Paris where Liebeault was treating patients and where he convinced Bernheim by what he saw. To that we return in the next module.





1. Mesmerism and hypnotism:

  1. began during the early part of the 20th century
  2. were essentially a nineteenth century phenomenon
  3. were based on German philosophy
  4. can be traced to the British empiricists

2. Mesmerism has its roots in:

  1. Magnetism
  2. Electricity
  3. Animal magnetism
  4. All of the above

3. Mesmerism has been used in:

  1. treatment of illnesses
  2. anesthesiology
  3. phrenological studies
  4. all of the above

4.The baquet was used:

  1. By John Elliotson
  2. in Paris
  3. by Anton Mesmer
  4. by immersing patients into it.

5. The person most closely associated with the medical use of hypnotism was:

  1. Anton Mesmer
  2. John Elliotson
  3. James Esdaile
  4. Paracelcus

6. Hypnotism got sidetracked as an anaesthetic agent because of:

  1. It's rather dangerous after effects
  2. It's lack of application to the field of dentistry
  3. The discovery of ether
  4. Research which showed it was not too effective in reducing pain

7. Braid helped to make hypnotism more readily accepted by the medical profession by:

  1. Proposing physiological explanations
  2. Advocating anatomical explanations
  3. Conducting research showing that the motor neurons were paralyzed
  4. Criticizing mesmerism

8. Braid eventually had the right idea about the explanation of hypnotism by proposing that it:

  1. Had a physiological explanation
  2. Had a psychological explanation
  3. Was produced by the tension on the levater eyelid muscles
  4. Had an anatomical explanation



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April 14, 2006