What is Subliminal Hypnotism?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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Hypnotism is a psychological technique that allows access to the unconscious mind. Hypnosis may be used by therapists as either a form of memory retrieval or as a tool of suggestion. Through manipulation of the five senses, subliminal hypnotism deals with the power of suggestion in hypnosis in which an idea or desire is aroused within the subject without the subject's being aware of the manipulation.

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud promoted instincts as human beings' main drive. Much of his psychoanalytic theory centers around the concept of a libidinous id: a force deep within humans and beyond awareness that harbors all secret impulses and desires. The human personality is spent in constant conflict between the id and the superego, a component that internalizes society’s rules and customs. While the superego and the id are part of the unconscious, the ego is the consciousness: awareness. Subliminal hypnotism seeks communication with an individual’s unconscious.


Subliminal hypnotism may be utilized with any of the five senses: sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. Perhaps the most widespread forms of subliminal hypnotism involve the sensations of sight and sound. A pop culture example of sight suggestion involves movie theaters flashing quick frames of popcorn in between film scenes. The images in such a case would happen too fast for the conscious mind to perceive them, but the unconscious mind would be more alert for such cues and would thus receive a hunger suggestion. Various magic novelty acts where the performer instructs an audience member to perform certain tasks serve as audio hypnotism examples.

Some of the above examples involve slightly modifying a normal cue so that its perception level decreases. Such techniques thrive in hypnotherapy settings. A trained hypnotherapist may influence a patient simply by changing voice tone or inflection. A hypnosis script containing particularly powerful cue words may also be used in a clinical hypnosis setting. Altered, subtle images placed wtihin normal images may affect the unconscious mind as well, as demonstrated by the potency of inkblot tests or picture tests used in clinical hypnotism.

Forms of conversational or covert hypnosis date to medieval times, when trance healing was a fixture in many religious ceremonies. In later centuries, some practitioners even believed magnets could tap into a person’s unconscious. A British surgeon named James Braid ushered in the era of modern subliminal hypnotism. He claimed that when a subject was put in a sleep-like state, a few well-placed phrases could induce the subject to feel heat in cold, savor imaginary tastes, and even sniff at phantom smells. Contemporary cognitive theories furthered the notion of subliminal hypnotism by claiming it as a normal state of intense concentration and attention which anyone can achieve at any time.

Subliminal hypnotism has gained more professional recognition in the 21st century. Cognitive psychologists have used more scientific, statistical methods to evaluate the field. In the 1950s, both the British Medical Association and the American Medical Association concluded that subliminal hypnosis held great potential as a therapeutic tool. As a result, many medical professionals ply their trade in such diverse areas as forensic psychology, memory recovery, addiction control, pain control, post-op surgery and healing, career enhancement, or simple relaxation exercises.


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