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Stage hypnosis is hypnosis performed in front of an audience for the purposes of entertainment, usually in a theatre or club. A modern stage hypnosis performance typically delivers a comedic show rather than simply a demonstration to impress an audience with powers of persuasion. Apparent effects of amnesia, mood altering and hallucination may be demonstrated in a normal presentation. Stage hypnosis performances often encourage audience members to look further into the benefits of hypnotism.
The causes of behaviour exhibited by volunteers in stage hypnosis shows is an area of dispute. Some claim it illustrates altered states of consciousness (i.e., "hypnotic trance"). Others maintain that it can be explained by a combination of psychological factors observed in group settings such as disorientation, compliance, peer pressure, and ordinary suggestion. Others yet allege that deception plays a part.
Stage hypnosis evolved out of much older shows conducted by Mesmerists and other performers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Scottish surgeon James Braid developed his technique of hypnosis after witnessing a stage performance by the travelling Swiss magnetic demonstrator Charles Lafontaine (1803–1892) in November 1841.
Braid was well aware of similar performances by "electro-biologists" in his day; e.g., Braid published the contents of an advertising hand-bill for an "electro-biology" performance by a visiting American, George W. Stone, on 12 March 1851, which, as well as clearly emphasising that Stone was claiming to use volunteers from the audience, rather than his own stooges/assistants, details some of the phenomena that Stone's audience might have expected to have displayed to them.
Persons in a perfectly wakeful state, of well-known character and standing in society, who come forward voluntarily from among the audience, will be experimented upon. They will be deprived of the power of speech, hearing, sight. Their voluntary motions will be completely controlled, so that, they can neither rise up nor sit down, except at the will of the operator; their memory will be taken away, so that they will forget their own name and that of their most intimate friends; they will be made to stammer, and to feel pain in any part of their body at the option of the operator – a walking stick will be made to appear a snake, the taste of water will be changed to vinegar, honey, coffee, milk, brandy, wormwood, lemonade, etc., etc., etc. These extraordinary experiments are really and truly performed without the aid of trick, collusion, or deception, in the slightest possible degree.
These are identical to many of the demonstrations which became central to subsequent "stage hypnosis", in fact it seems that little changes except the name and the introduction of the hypnotic induction, etc. Likewise, the novelist Mark Twain similarly recounts a Mesmeric performance which clearly resembles 20th century stage hypnosis, in his autobiography.
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