Hypnosis in popular culture

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For over a century, hypnosis has been a popular theme in fiction and music; it features in movies almost from their inception and more recently has been depicted in television and online media. As Harvard hypnotherapist Deirdre Barrett points out in 'Hypnosis in Popular Media',[1] the vast majority of these depictions are negative stereotypes of either control for criminal profit and murder or as a method of seduction. Others depict hypnosis as all-powerful or even a path to supernatural powers.[2]

This article lists stories in which hypnosis is featured as an important element. Passing mentions are omitted from this list.

Written works[edit]

  • Edgar Allan Poe, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" (1845) about a mesmerist who puts a man in a suspended hypnotic state at the moment of death.
  • Ambrose Bierce's story "The Realm of the Unreal" (1890) pivots on the idea of a very long hypnosis. The protagonist is supposed to be able to keep "a peculiarly susceptible subject in the realm of the unreal for weeks, months, and even years, dominated by whatever delusions and hallucinations the operator may from time to time suggest".
  • Ambrose Bierce, "The Hypnotist" (1893), in which the narrator glibly relates his use of hypnosis in committing a variety of crimes. Bierce's story "The Realm of the Unreal" (1890) pivots on the idea of a very long hypnosis. The protagonist is supposed to be able to keep "a peculiarly susceptible subject in the realm of the unreal for weeks, months, and even years, dominated by whatever delusions and hallucinations the operator may from time to time suggest".
  • George du Maurier, Trilby (1894), in which a tone-deaf girl is hypnotized and turned into a singer.
  • Bolesław Prus, Pharaoh (1895), in which a Chaldean is hypnotized in a circus act (chapter 33)[3] and High Priest Mefres gives post-hypnotic suggestions to the Greek, Lykon, in chapters 63[4] and 66[5] and passim.
  • Thomas Mann, Mario and the Magician (1930), relates the effect of a hypnotist on a mass audience. The story is said to be symbolic of the power of Fascism.
  • Cigars of the Pharaoh (1934)
  • Richard Condon, The Manchurian Candidate (1959), in which an American soldier is put into a hypnotic trance to implement an assassination plot. There have been two film versions, in 1962 and 2004.
  • Dean Koontz, False Memory (1999)
  • Georgia Byng, Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism (2002).
  • Lucas Hyde, Hypnosis (2005).
  • Donald K. Hartman, Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death. Gathers together twenty-two short stories from the 19th and early 20th century where hypnotism is used to cause death—either intentionally or by accident.
  • Allison Jones, "A Hypnotic Suggestion" (2009), has a forensic hypnotherapist as the protagonist.
  • Madelaine Lawrence, "Why Kill A Parapsychologist?" (2011), a sequel to "A Hypnotic Suggestion". Madelaine Lawrence is the other's real name. More books are expected in this series about a forensic hypnotherapist.
  • Lars Kepler (pseudonym), The Hypnotist (2011), in which a hypnotist attempts to recover lost memories from the witness to a murder.



  • In the TV series Pokémon, Hypnosis is a move which causes a sleep-induced trance, causing the target to fall asleep or allowing temporary mind control or even a hallucination. Two Pokémon, Drowzee and its evolved form Hypno are known as The Hypnosis Pokémon. Drowzee's name is a reference to feeling drowsy and its ability put someone to sleep. Hypno always carries a pendulum, although this is more of a reference to stage hypnosis.
  • In the CBS TV series The Mentalist, the main character Patrick Jane is a former TV psychic and uses hypnosis on several characters. An episode of the show dealt with several hypnotists, one of whom was a murderer, who use their abilities several times during the course of the episode.
  • The Showtime Network television show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, which features comedy duo Penn & Teller, took a skeptical look at hypnosis in one of their episodes. They took the view that the so-called hypnotic trance does not exist at all, and that all hypnosis sessions are merely voluntary shared fantasies. Penn and Teller also state that the unusual behaviors people exhibit during a hypnosis session have always been well within their reach.
  • The Paramount-syndicated television show The Montel Williams Show featured a presentation by Boris Cherniak where hypnotized subjects reacted to a variety of comical situations, while at the same time showcasing the therapeutic effects of hypnosis such as quitting smoking.
  • The popular British car show Top Gear featured one of its presenters, Richard Hammond, under the effects of hypnosis (courtesy of Paul McKenna). Once hypnotized, he underwent several mental changes. Believing he was unable to drive a car (confused when presented with an Alfa Romeo to take around the test track), and thinking that a miniature child's pedal version of a Porsche 911 was his own and a properly functional car. Even imitating its engine noise. Driving it around the studio floor, he threw a minor tantrum when Jeremy Clarkson purposely crashed into it, driving a similar pedal operated Jeep Cherokee.
  • An episode of the television series MythBusters examines hypnosis, attempting to ascertain if post-hypnotic suggestion could influence the actions of a subject against their will and/or be used to improve memory. The conclusion was that hypnosis did not alter their behaviour, but was based on unnamed author published 'self-hypnosis' CDs of indiscernible quality or expertise. However the show did in fact find hypnosis increased the ability to recall details of a staged incident during their investigation.
  • In an episode of Doug, Dr. Klotzenstein hypnotizes children into eating junk food, and Quailman must save the day.
  • In the animated TV series Futurama, a recurring character is the Hypnotoad. He is first seen in the episode The Day the Earth Stood Stupid having hypnotized the judges of a dog show, enabling him to win. In a later episode, he is shown to have his own popular television show, Everybody Loves Hypnotoad.
  • In the BBC science fiction series Doctor Who, the recurring Time Lord villain the Master will sometimes use hypnosis to bring subjects under his control. This is usually achieved by him staring the victim in the eyes and saying, "I am the Master and you will obey me!". In the 1985 story "The Mark of the Rani", the Master uses a pendulum to hypnotize a victim. The Doctor also displays proficiency in the use of hypnosis, requiring only a second glance into a person's eyes or a mind meld like technique to put someone under his spell. Another instance is when the Silence use post-hypnotic suggestions to control the actions of the human race and coax them to launch Apollo 11, all the while hiding their own existence through those same suggestions.
  • In the anime Nodame Cantabile, a character nicknamed Nodame uses hypnosis to uncover the traumatic events Chiaki experienced on a plane when he was young, and help him overcome his fear of flying. This allows Chiaki to chase his dreams of becoming a conductor in Europe.
  • In the series X-Files, one of the main characters Fox Mulder is able to access repressed memory of his sister's abduction by aliens through regression hypnosis.
  • In the anime Bleach the main antagonist Sosuke Aizen has a sword which allows him to place anyone who looks at it into a state of perfect hypnosis, which he uses to manipulate others.
  • Derren Brown claims to use suggestion as part of his performances in Mind Control with Derren Brown. He has however stated that 'hypnotic techniques' are the result of suggestion and that in reality there is no such thing as a hypnotic trance.
  • In Ninjago a snake tribe called the Hypnobrai have the power of hypnosis.
  • Magician/mentalist The Amazing Kreskin disputes the validity of hypnosis and once offered $100,000 to anyone who could prove to his satisfaction that such a thing as "hypnotic trance" exists.[6]
  • In the television series Monk, the season 7 episode "Mr. Monk Gets Hypnotized" has a principal plot involving hypnosis. While investigating the initial disappearance of actress Sally Larkin (Dina Meyer), Adrian Monk is miserable, having not been able to enjoy a double rainbow, and his mood isn't helped when an uncharacteristically upbeat Harold Krenshaw shows up on the scene, saying that he has been cured of his OCD through hypnosis with a new therapist, named Dr. Climan (played by Richard Schiff). Monk, inspired by Harold, tries an appointment with Dr. Climan and it leaves him in a childlike mental state for most of the episode (a state that is described by Dr. Bell as being that he is living the childhood he always wanted), although it proves helpful in breaking some leads in the Sally Larkin kidnapping case. For Harold Krenshaw, however, the hypnosis backfires when it strengthens his feelings of euphoria, causing him to take off all of his clothes in public and get arrested for indecent exposure.
  • In the season 3 episode of Gilligan's Island, Mary Ann hits her head and believes she is Ginger. When Mary Ann goes into a traumatic shock from seeing Ginger, the Professor attempts to cure her delusion by hypnotizing her. During the hypnosis session, Gilligan secretly watches and falls under with Mary Ann. The hypnosis doesn't succeed in returning Mary Ann to her original identity, but it causes Gilligan to believe he's Mary Ann. The Professor later uses hypnosis again, this time on Gilligan to return him to his original identity.
  • During the season 10 premiere of America's Got Talent, contestant Chris Jones performed a hypnotism act with judge Howie Mandel as the volunteer (who is known to suffer from mysophobia to the point where he never touches anyone's hands unless they are wearing latex gloves) where he was hypnotized and persuaded to shake hands with the contestant and judges Howard Stern, Mel B, and Heidi Klum while no one was wearing gloves. At the time of this post, he has advanced to the Judge Cuts Week stage of the competition. However, he failed to impress the judges during Judge Cuts Week 2 and he was eliminated from the competition.

Online media[edit]

  • The fictional crime-fighter, The Red Panda, featured on Decoder Ring Theatre, uses a highly fictionalized form of hypnotic power.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barrett, D. L. Hypnosis in Popular Media, Chapter 5 in Barrett, D. L. (Ed.) Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy, (2 vol.): Vol. 1: History, theory and general research, Vol. 2: Hypnotherapy research and applications, NY, NY: Praeger/Greenwood, Nov. 2010.
  2. ^ Deirdre L. Barrett "Hypnosis in the Arts and Media." Presidential Address American Psychological Association Division 30 San Francisco 08/18/2007
  3. ^ Bolesław Prus, Pharaoh, p. 266.
  4. ^ Bolesław Prus, Pharaoh, pp. 577–85.
  5. ^ Bolesław Prus, Pharaoh, pp. 611–13.
  6. ^ "Kreskin Celebrates New Jersey Supreme Court Decision Re: Hypnosis". AmazingKreskin.com (archive). August 14, 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-11-06. Retrieved 2009-12-03.