hypnotism (hĭpˈnətĭzəm) [key] [Gr., = putting to sleep], to induce an altered state of consciousness characterized by deep relaxation and heightened suggestibility. The term was originally coined by James Braid in 1842 to describe a phenomenon previously known as animal magnetism or mesmerism (see Mesmer, Friedrich Anton). Superficially resembling sleep, it is generally induced by the monotonous repetition of words and gestures while the subject is completely relaxed. Although almost everyone can be hypnotized, individuals vary greatly in susceptibility. The hypnotic state is characterized by heightened suggestibility and represents an altered state of consciousness as recent research has shown electrical changes occur in brain activity when a person is hypnotized. Ernest Hilgard's neodissociation theory (1977) has been influential in the explanation of hypnosis. Hilgard's theory asserts that several distinct states of consciousness can be present during hypnosis, such that certain actions may become dissociated from the conscious mind. In the late 19th cent., it was used by a number of medical practitioners, who found that individuals susceptible to hysteria are highly suggestible and can be put into deep hypnosis, sometimes leading to a cure. Sigmund Freud used the method in psychoanalysis. In recent years, hypnosis has been widely used by practitioners as an aid in medical practice and psychotherapy. Hypnosis is also used in some criminal investigations, to help defendants to recall events they might otherwise not remember.
See E. Hilgard and J. Hilgard, Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain (1984); D. Waxman et al., ed., Modern Trends in Hypnosis (1984).