Cognitive Biases: 26 Brain Hacks To Upgrade Your Hypnosis

Hypnosis can be hugely aided by exploiting some of the many shortcuts that human brains make. Better than that, when many of these thinking errors are exploited simultaneously, the effects can be cumulative. This can lead to significant improvements in outcomes from hypnosis sessions with relatively little extra work.

What Is A Cognitive Bias?

A cognitive bias is an unconscious glitch in which someone’s perception and thought processes diverge from measurable reality. These typically occur due to shortcuts that our brains must make in order to process the world around us with the limited resources available.

Awareness and utilization of various cognitive biases can significantly improve hypnotic outcomes.

The way that I usually look at these is that each instance of use is likely to give us a 1% gain. It’s not true of course, but it does give us an idea of scale.

And with 26 of them to choose from, and it often being possible to not only include all of them in a single session, but to include some of them many times, the effects snowball fast.

Ambiguity Effect

The Ambiguity Effect is a cognitive bias in which people tend to prefer options that give them more certainty.

It might sound like this is a simple matter of probabilities. In reality, most people stubbornly ignore math. So this effect refers more to the contrast between something with a known outcome, and something with insufficient data.

People will typically choose a known outcome over one with insufficient data even when the known outcome has a low probability of being good.

This can be used in hypnosis in many ways. We can help people to choose one option out of several by giving them exact data on the one we’d like them to choose, while being vague about the other options.

Anchoring Effect

The Anchoring Effect is a cognitive bias in which someone’s perception of something is overly shaped by that which was presented earlier.

To use this in hypnosis, present ideas that your subject would like to take on earlier in the session. Hypnotherapists use this all the time by working through the subject’s problem and resolving it in the pre-talk, then using hypnosis to provide a demarcation point for the change.

If you’d like to be more subtle, take your subject through an experience of things that support their change early on in a session.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias in which people will tend to personally identify with statements that are true of most people, and will falsely believe that such statements uniquely refer to them.

I mostly use this one for building rapport, and for inducing hypnosis by carrying out a cold reading. Start out by making complimentary statements based on observations, and then become more specific as you gather more data from your subject’s responses.

When I do this, people usually end up in a fairly solid trance within a dozen sentences or so.

Bizarreness Effect

The Bizarreness Effect is a cognitive bias in which unusual information is more easily remembered.

When you come up with examples as a part of your hypnosis, find ways to make them stand out from your subject’s normal experience. The stranger, the better.

Contrast Effect

The Contrast Effect refers to the fact that human brain is really only good at spotting differences. Our perceptions are significantly shaped by whatever came before them.

This applies to both our observations of events in the real world and our internal thought processes.

One use of this in hypnosis is to convince people they have gone deeper into trance. This may be achieved by making statements along the lines of every time X you will go twice as deep as ever before. They have no way to objectively measure how deep they have gone. However, when we tell them it is twice as deep, they will tend to subjectively experience greater depth of trance.

Curse Of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge occurs when experts omit important background information from explanations, trainings, and so on due to assuming it is something that everyone knows.

It is particularly important for hypnotists to be aware of the curse of knowledge because the relationship between hypnotist and subject is more like the relationship between teacher and student than anything else.

It’s usually best to assume that hypnosis subjects know nothing about how the mind works. As a result, most of the time we want to come up with the simplest possible statements that our subjects will believe.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low skill will tend to believe they are experts, while experts will tend to underestimate their own skill levels.

This one is particularly important to be aware of because a great many people out in the world have opinions about hypnosis based largely on a total lack of knowledge.

One way this can be exploited in hypnosis is through building someone’s confidence by using Barnum statements to convince them they are already an expert, then asking them questions to help them to think more deeply about the topic at hand.

Golem Effect

The Golem Effect is where an individual’s performance becomes worse due to negative expectations, either by someone else or by themselves.

Typically, an authority figure such as a teacher or manager will form a negative belief about someone’s performance. The person in question then unconsciously decreases their performance to meet those expectations. This creates a feedback loop in which they end up performing poorly for no reason other than it was expected.

It is important to be aware of this in hypnosis since as the hypnotist we are the authority figure. Any negativity or doubts we express about our subjects will be magnified inside their minds and may lead to undesirable outcomes.

As a rule, stay positive wherever possible, and steer subjects away from topics where you cannot.

False Consensus Effect

The False Consensus Effect is a cognitive bias in which people tend to see their own beliefs as being widespread.

This one can be very useful in hypnosis, because we can use it to help build rapport and our subject’s sense of self-esteem.

To do so, first mine your subject for the contexts and frameworks they hold around whatever you’re working on, then simply smile and nod in agreement.

Framing Effect

The Framing Effect is a cognitive bias which causes people to choose a different option based on the manner in which the options are presented.

Let’s go with a graphic example on this one. Imagine that I walk up to you and lop off your leg. It’s pretty bad, right?

But what if you were trapped in a collapsed building that’s on fire and it’s the only way to get you out?

Everything that we do and perceive exists within a set of frames and contexts. The meaning that we place on any particular event can be completely changed by doing nothing more than changing the frame.

Frame control is one of the most important components of hypnosis. Notice what frames your subject is wrapping around their perception of reality, then shape those frames to help guide them to where they would like to be.

Frequency Illusion

The Frequency Illusion occurs where someone starts to see something everywhere following an increase in its importance to them.

For example, we buy a new car or item of clothing that we really like, and suddenly it seems like everyone else has one too.

There are a number of uses for the frequency illusion in hypnosis. This can be as simple as asking our subject if they’ve ever had that experience, then having them tell us about it.

If they are currently experiencing it, they are likely to tell us about that. Then all we have to do is smile, nod, and give other signs of approval, and we will become unconsciously attached to that thing inside their mind.

When done right, this reinforces their good feelings about us while unconsciously reminding them to continue to make the changes we’ve worked on.

Galatea Effect

The Galatea Effect is a bias in which people become more likely to succeed when they believe they will.

Ask your subject questions about the structure of their problem. Have them tell you what’s needed to achieve their goal, then ask them about other times they’ve succeeded in the past.

The past successes do not have to be in any way related to their current issue.

Use hypnosis to emotionally tie them together so that your subject forms a belief that they will succeed.

Generation Effect

The Generation Effect is where people will tend to better recall their own ideas over those of others.

There is an entire field of hypnosis wrapped around this one.

With generative change, we spend a little time asking the subject about their problem and why they’ve come to see us. Then we hypnotize them and do something entirely different.

There are countless ways this can be done. This can be as simple as they tell you they’ve got a headache, and you have them locate and observe the physical sensations inside their body.

One generative process I love to use is spinning up a hypnotic reality, then having the subject move things around inside that reality. Since they were just thinking about the problem, the things they move around are automatically attached to it and they unconsciously build a solution.

And of course, it can also be used as a part of a conscious process. Simply guide your subject towards having their own solution by asking them questions. This is the basis of coaching.

In every case, when they have to do the work themselves, they will value it more highly, and consequently will remember it better.

Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is a bias in which people incorrectly assume that positive attributes imply others.

For example, if someone is physically attractive people will often assume they are smarter or more competent, even though there is evidence to the contrary.

This can be exploited in many ways in hypnosis.

To make a new idea more appealing, present it as part of a stream of other ideas the subject already accepts and has positive feelings around.

Mere-Exposure Effect

The Mere-Exposure Effect is a bias where people tend to prefer something they are familiar with.

This is a survival trait since there is a known risk associated with the familiar, while the risk associated with new things may be unknown.

This is important when building rapport for several reasons. In particular, if we have common ground with someone, they will tend to like us more, which can lead to rapport.

Misinformation Effect

The Misinformation Effect is where our memories of an event are modified by information supplied after the event.

Our memories are only ever an approximation of what actually happened. Beyond that, they are modified every time we access them.

This can be utilized in hypnosis by introducing new information that might be helpful to the subject.

For example, we might have them tell us about an event that has caused them issues, then ask them questions to insert alternative details that better support the change they would like to have.

Naive Realism

Naive Realism is the belief that we can make objective observations.

This leads people to believe that those with alternative viewpoints are wrong in some way.

One of the main things we do when helping people with hypnosis is get them out of their own way.

An important part of this process is identifying the subject’s representation of the world.

Once we know their frames and contexts, we can begin to shape their beliefs. One method is to ask them questions designed to highlight inconsistencies in their observations and reasoning.

When doing this, it is vitally important that they believe they found the issue themselves.

Negativity Effect

The Negativity Effect is a cognitive bias in which negative things have a greater impact on someone than equivalently sized positive things.

This is a survival trait since generally speaking negative things cause us more harm than positive.

I have heard estimates that negative emotions can cause things to be encoded 7 times as strongly as positive emotions of the same magnitude.

This is vital to be aware of in hypnotherapy since it means that when we want to help our subject overcome something negative, it’s necessary to apply more positive resources than we might otherwise expect.

Picture Superiority Effect

The Picture Superiority Effect tells us that people tend to remember images far better than they will remember words.

This can be used in hypnosis by painting a vivid picture inside your subject’s mind.

Visualizations and hypnotic realities use this effect to deepen hypnosis and to bind any changes inside the mind.

Describe whatever the scene is in detail, being sure to include information for as many senses as possible.

Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect occurs when an individual’s performance improves due to positive expectations.

It might be surprising to some, but it turns out that we can often help someone to change for the better by doing nothing more than having faith in their abilities to succeed.

This can be subtle. For example, if you wanted to ensure your kids go to university, all you really have to do is casually maintain the frame of when you go to university while they are in school.

Doing so creates a heavy implication that they will succeed enough at their schooling to get into university in the first place, which makes it more likely that they will. Done correctly, it also normalizes the idea for them which makes it seem like an inevitable next step.

When we demonstrate our belief that our subjects will succeed while they are in hypnosis, the effects may be magnified even further.

So if you enjoy having subjects who love your hypnosis and come back for more, find ways to subtly indicate that you believe they will succeed at whatever they are trying to achieve.

Rhyme-As-Reason Effect

The Rhyme-As-Reason Effect is a cognitive bias in which people assign higher truthiness to statements that rhyme.

I am sub-optimal at creating rhymes, so I have not used this one myself.

If you happen to be good at creating rhymes, try making your most important point into a rhyme and then having your subject repeat it when they are in hypnosis.

Not only will they be more inclined to believe it and take it onboard, it will also be easier for them to remember. Done well, it might even become a mantra for them.

Self-Reference Effect

The Self-Reference Effect is a cognitive bias in which people tend to remember things that include them better than things that do not.

To use this one in hypnosis, be sure to have your subject vividly picture themselves acting in the new way whenever you guide them through a change.

Serial Position Effect

The Serial Position Effect is a cognitive bias in which people more easily recall the first and last items. This is also known as Primacy and Recency.

This can be used a number of ways in hypnosis.

I usually use this to bury information I want to hide from someone’s conscious mind in the middle of a session. This makes it difficult for them to access consciously, and therefore difficult to interfere with.

Subject-Expectancy Effect

The Subject-Expectancy Effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when people unconsciously affect the outcome of something through their prior beliefs.

While most of the scientific world strives to eliminate this effect through implementation of things like double-blind experiments, in hypnosis we tend to exploit it.

Here’s the thing: If someone believes something will happen, it’s more likely to.

In hypnosis, we typically aim to help our subjects to believe that the change they want will happen. Once they do, the subject-expectancy effect makes it more likely that they will get the outcome they want.

Von Restorff Effect

The Von Restorff Effect is a cognitive bias in which people tend to remember an item which stands out in some way from a collection. This is sometimes known as the Isolation Effect.

This one is probably obvious. I mean, it’s literally what stands out means.

This can be used in hypnosis to help our subjects remember one specific thing, and also to help them to forget other things should we want them relegated to unconscious processing.

Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect is a cognitive bias in which people will tend to more easily recall incomplete tasks, and will more easily forget the details of completed tasks.

In hypnosis, this is mostly used to help our subjects to forget details of their hypnosis session which in turn prevents conscious interference.

Essentially, we either tell a story or describe a vivid scene, then switch to another story or scene. After a few layers, the change work can be carried out. Finally, we bring our subject back out in reverse order.

And because it feels like a continuous stream to our subject, they almost never realize there are things hidden away.

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