Research Article: Oxytocin Enhances Social Persuasion during Hypnosis

Date Published: April 5, 2013

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Richard A. Bryant, Lynette Hung, Tiziana Zalla.


It has long been argued that hypnosis cannot promote behaviors that people will not otherwise engage in. Oxytocin can enhance trust in others, and may promote the extent to which a hypnotized person complies with the suggestion of a hypnotist. This double-blind placebo study administered oxytocin or placebo to high hypnotizable participants (N = 28), who were then administered hypnotic suggestions for socially unorthodox behaviors, including swearing during the experiment, singing out loud, and dancing in response to a posthypnotic cue. Participants who received oxytocin were significantly more likely to swear and dance than those who received the placebo. This finding may be interpreted in terms of oxytocin increasing social compliance in response as a function of (a) increased trust in the hypnotist, (b) reduced social anxiety, or (c) enhanced sensitivity to cues to respond to experimental expectations. These results point to the potential role of oxytocin in social persuasion.

Partial Text

Hypnotized people are able to respond in ways that are highly incongruent with normal patterns of perception, cognition, and behavior. A hypnotized person may experience for suggested events, rigidity of body parts, or anesthesia in response to painful stimuli. Accordingly, hypnosis has intrigued researchers since populated by Freud [1] and Janet [2] over 100 years ago. Hypnotizability (i.e., one’s capacity to respond to hypnotic suggestion) is normally distributed in the population, with approximately 15% being low hypnotizable, 70% being medium hypnotizable, and 15% being high hypnotizable [3]. Further, one’s capacity for hypnotic responding is very stable across time, with evidence that it remains consistent over 25 years (r = 0.71) [4].

Participants in the two conditions did not differ in terms of demographic characteristics, or hypnotizability scores. Separate 2 (Condition)×2 (Assessment Time) analyses of variance (ANOVAs) of trust and anxiety ratings prior to and following the spray indicated no significant main or interaction effects (see Table 1).