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Oxytocin and Hypnosis: “Quack Like A Duck!”

Oxytocin Appears To Make Hypnotherapy Clients “Quack Like A Duck!”

Once and for all, it looks like we can we conclusively answer the inevitable question that most everyone asks about hypnosis, and that is “Can you make me quack like a duck?” And oxytocin appears to be the hormone responsible for that quacking behavior.

All joking aside, what we are really talking about is suggestibility, or how hypnotizable you are. Participant who were given Oxytocin as part of a hypnosis double blind study experienced a more willingness to participate in unorthodox behavior as a result.

28 highly suggestible subjects were given oxytocin in a double blind study where some received the hormone and the others did not, they were then given suggestions pertaining to swearing, dancing and singing out loud in response to posthypnotic suggestions. Those given the oxytocin were “significantly” more reactive to dancing, swearing and singing.

Oxytocin is hormone secreted by the Pituitary Gland. It’s main function in the endocrine system is to stimulate the mammary glands of the new mother to produce milk which in turn provides the chemical foundation for bonding. As a result of this bonding hormone it is thought that oxytocin increases trust in the hypnotherapist which reduces anxiety and enhances sensitivity to those social cues necessary for social experimentation.

Highly suggestible clients are able to momentarily suspend their belief systems to engage in corrective behavior or to change habits to a greater degree than most. It is estimated that only 15% of the population has this ability with another 15%  experiencing difficulty. The remaining 70% has a medium response to hypnosis.

Oxytocin is also thought to diminish hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity, (HPA), the area of the brain responsible for the sympathetic nervous system, more commonly known as fight-flight. If the relationship between therapist and client is dependent upon building rapport, thus gaining the client’s trust, then the introduction of a trust inducing, anxiety neutralizing hormone such as oxytocin would only appear to heighten that experience and increase the suggestibility of the client making them more likely to comply with behavior outside their norm.

In this 2102 double-blind study published by Richard A. Bryant and Lynette Hung of the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia, Bryant and Hung were able to conclude that social persuasion outside the normal parameters of individual behavior was enhanced with the introduction of oxytocin.

850 highly hypnotizable college students were hypnotized and then rated on group scores compiled from response to induction, motor skills, challenges, and cognitive suggestions on the Harvard Group Hypnotizability Scale. This scale was then adapted to further assess suggestibility using standard challenges. Eyes opening, finger separating, arm raising, amnesia and execution of posthypnotic suggestion.

Students were reevaluated again individually using the Stanford Hypnotic Suggestibility Scale, which is a more comprehensive hypnotizability test based on 1-10 scale. Only 28 students who scored in the 7-10 range were recruited for the study. Females were excluded from the study due to oxytocin’s impact on pregnancy. The median score on the Harvard test was 8.42 and 8.51 on the Stanford Study. These were the most suggestible of the most highly hypnotizable subjects.

On the day of the experiment subjects were forbidden to ingest anything but water. 2 Hours before the study, they were asked to rank their emotions on the impending hypnosis trust and anxiety using a 1-7 score. 1=none and 7=extremely. They were then allowed to self administer either a nasal dose of oxytocin or a nasal placebo. 45 minutes later they were then hypnotised and told that if they had an “urge to swear, sing or get up and dance” to just go ahead and do so, even though they would have no idea why. The participants were observed and rated by 3 different observers who were unaware of which subjects had received the placebo and which had received the hormone. The ratings were based on spontaneous dancing, singing and swearing on a all or nothing “pass” or “fail” basis. The subjects either took to the suggestions or they did not.

There was a clear difference in the actions of the oxytocin group vs the placebo group. 80% vs 39% for swearing. 67% vs 23% for dancing, ( p<.05 for both swearing and dancing), and 67% vs 69%  (p<.89) for singing.  It is interesting to note that the level of compliance for Oxytocin users in Phase 1, group resulted in behavior that was contextual. In other words, even oxytocin is not going to make you do something that you hate to do. So while swearing and dancing would seem socially acceptable to these men, it appears that singing out loud for no reason is not, which might count for the lack of statistical variance.

As a hypnotherapist, I find it interesting to know that there does seem to be some correlation between the hypothalamus, the pituitary glands, hormones and hypnosis because it does make sense to me on a theoretical level. But this experiment seems to support the parasympathetic depth reaction to a subjects behavior once they are in engaged in hypnosis, where the HPA is reducing the sympathetic nervous system after the induction process because they only evaluate posthypnotic suggestion activity.

There was no information given on the induction which we all know in hypnotherapy is dependent on triggering that fight-flight response first with a stress reaction. That triggering effects the initial depth of the session which in many cases in very necessary for the completion of a successful session. If the client is taking a fight/flight suppressing drug, did that make any difference?

I would ask several questions:

  1. How much pre-talk time was there with the client and the therapist?
  2. What kind of inductions were used?
  3. Was it more difficult to induce hypnosis to subjects given the Oxytocin than it was before or to subjects who did not use it.
  4. Did he have any highly reactive placebo clients?

Despite some questions still needing answers, it does appear that quacking might be a oxytocin side effect!

Sheryl Hill. CHt.
After 25 years in the entertainment industry, Shery Hill returned to school to change careers. Now, Sheryl practices hypnotherapy in the Los Angeles, California area at Vent Hypnosis, and writes posts each week on social media under the name,"The Natural Somnambulist."
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2 comments

  1. Nice article! The questions you asked are actually very important though.

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