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Originally published September 26 2009

The State or Non-State of Hypnosis: Debate Continues

by Steve G. Jones, Ed.S.

(NaturalNews) One of the many mysteries of hypnosis is where hypnosis comes from. Many researchers believe that hypnosis produces an altered state of consciousness while others believe that there is no altered state with hypnosis. Research has been conducted to try to fully understand what happens when people are hypnotized. One of the reasons why hypnosis eludes scientists is because there is still a lot to be learned about the human brain and how it functions.

The debate on whether hypnosis is a state or a non-state is known as the 'altered state debate.' People who believe that hypnosis does not involve an altered state of consciousness argue that the effects of hypnosis and suggestions can be achieved without a hypnotic induction (Whalley, 2009). One researcher (Spanos, 1986) believes that suggestions, including analgesia suggestions and amnesia suggestions, have a socio-cognitive link. Spanos believes that people who undergo hypnosis are able to convince themselves to believe a certain way and this occurs cognitively and not due to an altered state of consciousness.

An altered state of consciousness (ASC) is defined as, "any of various states of awareness (as dreaming sleep, a drug-induced hallucinogenic state, or a trance) that deviate from and are usually clearly demarcated from ordinary waking consciousness" (Meriam-Webster). An altered state is often compared to a baseline state which is a state where "the psychological sense of the self is at the center of one's perception" (Whalley, 2009).

A scientific aspect of this debate about where hypnosis comes from involves looking at brain functioning and brain images. When studying the brain, researchers are presented with an important question: How much different from the baseline state would hypnosis have to be in order to be classified as an altered state of consciousness?

Various methods are being used to determine how to measure hypnosis. Neuro-imaging is being used including PET and fMRI scans. These tests allow one to see activity in the brain during hypnosis and without hypnosis. Another method of measurement includes behavioral studies. Studies attempt to compare the behavior of hypnotized and non-hypnotized individuals (Whalley, 2009).

The debate on whether hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness continues to be argued. There are multiple studies that back up both sides of the argument. At this point in time, there is no clear answer. With time, as more behavioral studies are conducted and as researchers learn more about the human brain and its functioning, we will learn exactly how hypnosis occurs in the mind.


"altered state of consciousness." Meriam-Webster Dictionary.

Spanos, N.P. (1986). Hypnosis and the modification of hypnotic susceptibility: A social psychological perspective. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Whalley, M. (2009). The state/nonstate debate. Hypnosis and Suggestion: Exploring the Science behind Hypnosis. Retrieved on September 25th, 2009:

About the author

Steve G. Jones, Ed.S. has been practicing hypnotherapy since the 1980s. He is the author of 22 books on Hypnotherapy. Steve is a member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, American Board of Hypnotherapy, president of the American Alliance of Hypnotists, on the board of directors of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Lung Association, and director of the Steve G. Jones School of Clinical Hypnotherapy.
Steve G. Jones, Ed.S. is a board certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Florida (1994), a master's degree in education from Armstrong Atlantic State University (2007), and is currently working on a doctorate in education, Ed.D., at Georgia Southern University. Learn more at:

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