Derren Brown, Hypnotism, and Strobes

  1. A few years ago I read about the debunking of stage hypnotism and the way stage hypnotists work their crowd to pull off the trick. I just recently wound up in a discussion on the topic due to a Derren Brown prank involving putting someone, unknowingly, into a "catatonic state" with the use of lights flashing from the screen of an arcade game.
    I quickly dismissed it as fake due to what I have previously read. I have also heard of effecting the nervous system with strobes but from what I understood the frequency and various elements of the strobe had to be just right to work.
    Now though I can't find anything to really back up my assertions. The only thing I can find are sites that say the nature of hypnosis is up to debate and no one seems to really know. And I can't find anything about strobes in this context either.
    Does anyone know anything about this or know any good sources? Preferably internet sources because I'm not sure I really want to buy a book on the subject.
  2. jcsd
  3. I read a serious book on hypnotism which said, in a nutshell, that it works on the principle that the mind is structured as a hierarchy, with what is called "the Executive Function" at the top. This is the very conscious part of our minds that screens all imput.

    The other levels are not nearly so discriminating, and believe everything they hear. That being the case, the hypnotists goal is to inhibit or at least distract the executive function in order to get the suggestions to the lower levels with no censorship.

    Fatiguing the eyes has always seemed to work for this, the swinging watch being the classic example. I can easily see strobes having the same effect.

    Stage hypnosis, though, is mostly a matter of pre-selecting people who are eager to believe they going to be hypnotized, and who will carry out the "suggestions" because they already want to. There is very little authentic hypnosis going on in these "entertainment" demonstrations. I think if you shouted "fire" while they are all flopped over each other, supposedly in a trance, they'd spring right up and bolt like everyone else.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2005

  4. This is more or less what I remember reading. Pretty much the stage hypnotist relies on the subjects being willing to participate in the embarassing antics. Then if they seem to stop taking to it so well they weed them out and have them removed from the stage.
  5. Hemi-Sync and Altered Consciousness
    by Stefan Kasian

    I thought I had heard about this back in the early 70's, when people used drugs and watched strobe lights. I recall it somewhat increased the effects of the drugs they were taking.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2005
  6. Thank you Hypatia.
    I remembered hearing things like that about strobes before. 10 Hz, I'll have to remember that. This was a particularly strong effect though. I had considered the ability of strobes to effect some ones mind but had assumed that it would take something with a steady repetition at a particular frequency. In this particular example they used intermitant bursts of strobe with the subject supposedly unaware what was occuring. When he did "succumb" his head suddenly fell forward as he stood there and he was supposedly in a catatonic state. It looked alot like somoeone just put under by a stage hypnotist. So I'm wondering, regardless of how fake this particular incident was, if it's possible to do such a thing to someone against their will with strobes. I have heard of strobes at particular frequencies inducing epileptic seizures but that would be something completely differant.
    Someone offered the idea that the person was hypnotized earlier in the evening somewhere else and did so willing but unbenounced to him he was given a post hypnotic suggestion to return to the trance state when stimulated by the strobes. From what I have read on hypnotism though suggestions, even when a person is willing, don't last for very long outside of the trance.
  7. Why? What evil plans do you have?

    This thing with strobes doesn't sound like a normal hypnotic trance to me. If what the guy at Hypatia's link is saying is true, that the strobe entrains the whole brain into a single frequency, then this is some kind of unique altered state unto itself.

    In the text of that article he just asserted this is what happens without citing any studies that proved it. (Could be that info is in the references he listed at the bottom, but I can't say.)
    Not necessarily since there is a very common kind of seizure called a complex-partial seizure during which the person suffers a large defect of consciousness, but no convulsions or motor impairment. The appearance and behavior of a person having a complex partial is much the same as you'd expect to see in someone sleepwalking: a far-off glazed stare combined with mumbling or mouth movements, and usually some movement of the hands, like picking at their clothing, or rubbing their thumbs against their fingers. It is concievable a strobe could trigger a complex-partial in a person with a low seizure threshold. I could research it and see if I can come up with any case studies of photo-sensitive complex-partial epilepsy.
    I don't think this is the case. I think a well placed post hypnotic suggestion is permanent unless it is given a time limit, or the person achieves enough awareness of it being there to countermand it. Supposedly they operate at the same deep level as such unquestioned core beliefs as the faith we have in gravity, or that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

    I suppose a milder, impermanent form of suggestion is always automatically placed by convincing the executive function that an unconscious suggestion has been put in place to say, not want to smoke, or over-eat, when it hasn't really. Something like that might wear off fairly quickly.
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