Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock
Source: Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock

Can hypnosis be used to make someone do something against his or her own will? This question has been the source of great controversy. I served as a consultant about hypnosis to Woody Allen’s film, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, in which the character of Voltan uses hypnosis to get others to steal for him without recalling the event.

So, can hypnosis be used for mind control? 

There has certainly been a lot of research on the subject. The CIA and KGB have both experimented with hypnosis to create the perfect spy or even an assassin. But while I have read many stories about these experiments, I've never seen any proof of their success. Much may be possible in the dark and sinister underworld of spies and madmen, but university research on the possibilities has always been limited by ethics.

Could you be hypnotized and forced to do something illegal or diabolical? The general answer is that you cannot. There is a possibility, however, that if one had unlimited resources of money, power, and time, devious plans could be designed: There really were many secret experimental programs like "MK-Ultra" that used hypnosis and drugs to push mind-control to its limits. Is it possible that your friendly neighbor could have been implanted with a program to suddenly become a killer when "triggered" by the right signal?

What has been documented is that if you found a subject whose personality was deviant to begin with and wanted to direct their minds to do something extreme like plant a bomb or commit an assassination, you may be able to guide him or her to do it—with or without hypnosis. The hypnotic trance is a state of awareness that makes a person more easily persuaded. But the art of persuasion relies on many factors. To convince a normal person to become a killer is extremely unlikely. But if you are able to use coercion—such as kidnapping and threatening the life of their child—a person could very well be able to do anything to protect their offspring. Similarly, it may be possible to convince a person that something horrific will happen unless they follow your instructions precisely. Hypnosis could be used to plant such images, feelings, and stories in an innocent person who may then give in to the pressure and commit an attack they would otherwise never consider. 

You may have read in the spy novels about nefarious masterminds who use so-called “mind-control” techniques to program innocents to do their bidding like so many robots. And again, while this is unlikely, evildoers may be able to recruit the types of individual whose personality already is ready, if not eager, for violence, which could presumably include combat veterans who killed many enemy combatants in active duty. Perhaps this person also has strong philosophical leanings that following orders is correct, regardless of the consequences. If such a person volunteers for a covert project and enough time is spent applying all sorts of techniques to "reprogram" the subject, anything may be possible. Hypnosis could be used to promote a more complete mind reprogramming and solidify a specific plan with great detail—and create a hypnotized walking time-bomb.

Fortunately, there are not many people who are eager or willing to volunteer for such an experiment. There are also, however, many fanatics who do not need any additional persuasion to become assassins. We all know the madness of martyrs who become suicide bombers in the name of fanatical belief. We need hardly worry about someone using hypnosis to reprogram an individual to become a killer; there are enough individuals already eagerly seeking opportunities to inflict harm. 

You cannot be programmed to become killer without your knowledge. Hypnosis can be persuasive, but does not give the hypnotist control over your mind, morality, or judgment. So do not fear hypnosis—it should continue to develop as an effective technique to promote desired change in behavior, thinking, and emotions (without shifting to mind-control). It's a powerful tool and we should use it for beneficial purposes, not evil intentions. 

About the Author

John Ryder

John Ryder, Ph.D., is a psychologist, hypnotherapist, and the author of Positive Directions. He is a mental fitness expert who offers effective tools to refocus on the positive.

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