Ideomotor Effect: Guide To Unconscious Physical Motion

The Ideomotor Effect occurs when an involuntary physical movement (known as an ideomotor response) is caused by someone’s unconscious processes. This is a bi-directional phenomenon which can be used to mine the hypnosis subject’s unconscious mind for information and to drive change.

This effect is the driving force behind many things that people commonly assume to be paranormal phenomena, such as Ouija boards, table tipping, and dowsing.

In reality, what’s going on is that we have vast amounts of unconscious knowledge, and the ideomotor effect is being used to extract this knowledge.

Since ideomotor responses are not driven by the conscious mind, the subject’s experience is that they happen outside of their control.

How Does The Ideomotor Effect Work?

Every muscle movement we can make and every bodily position we can assume has an associated set of patterns inside our brain. When enough of a pattern fires up inside our brain, our muscles move in the appropriate way. Similarly, when our bodily position is externally configured, the patterns associated with that movement light up.

The overall effect of this deep connectivity between brain and body is that changes in one will cause corresponding changes in the other.

Hypnotists consider our minds to be loosely split into a conscious mind and an unconscious mind.

Our conscious mind is where our sense of self resides, and it is severely limited since we can typically only focus on one thing at a time, and can only hold about 7 things in our working memory at once. The huge advantage of our conscious mind is that we can do nifty things like logic with it.

On the other hand, our unconscious mind is vast. It is the storehouse of everything we’ve ever experienced, along with every association between those things. At some level, everything is connected to everything else. The practical side-effect of this is that our unconscious mind is usually aware of all sorts of things that have not made their way into our conscious awareness.

This is where things like gut instinct and intuition come from. It’s also why it’s usually best to trust those things.

The ideomotor effect provides us with a simple means to directly access our unconscious mind and to pull information out of it.

What Does Unconscious Movement Look Like?

Unconscious movement is characterized by small, sudden, sharp movements. There is typically a time-delay between the movement being suggested and it being manifested by the unconscious mind. Unconscious ideomotor responses usually appear as a series of twitches and jerks.

This is in contrast to conscious movements, which are typically smooth and as big or small as they need to be.

As hypnotists this is useful to know, because it means we can separate actual unconscious movements from those where our subjects are doing what they think we want them to do.

Most people have no idea what an unconscious movement looks like, so they can’t fake it. And the ones that do know what unconscious movements look like end up going into hypnosis when they try.

This means that we can use our subjects’ unconscious movements to help us to gauge their depth of trance.

Either way, the hypnotist wins.

Ideomotor Response Examples

Any kind of involuntary physical movement can be an ideomotor response.

In hypnosis, we typically use responses such as:

  • Finger twitch
  • Head nod
  • Arm levitation
  • Arm or leg twitch

It can even be a micro-expression.

There are also processes we can use to magnify the results to make them easier to observe. These typically involve some kind of lever.

Pendulums may be used to magnify the effects of tiny movements in the fingers.

Ouija boards may be used to have a group of people spell out actual words from their combined unconscious minds. The tiny movements of multiple people add up to enough to move a pointer.

Dowsing rods may be used to extract things we know but for which we have no conscious awareness of that knowledge. In this case, the rods act as a lever to magnify the motion.

In each of these cases, a tiny motion is magnified to produce a visible result. To the operator, it sometimes feels like some mystical force is causing the movement.

And in case you are wondering, in scientific tests which have been run on each of these it has been found that despite what it feels like to the operator, it is always the hands that cause those movements.

How To Use The Ideomotor Effect To Extract Unconscious Information

The Ideomotor Effect may be used to extract unconscious information from a hypnosis subject by hypnotizing the subject, suggesting a framework, and then presenting some options to them. This is typically used to get agreement and confirmation from the unconscious mind.

1. Hypnotize The Subject

Ideomotor responses work with any form of hypnosis where the subject is guided into a hypnotic trance.

Hypnotize the subject using the induction of your choice, deepen their trance until it is nice and stable, and do the various things you were planning to do in this session.

2. Ask The Subject A Question And Suggest An Ideomotor Response As The Answer

In many hypnosis sessions we want to get some kind of agreement or confirmation from the unconscious mind.

This reinforces that whatever we are doing is going to work, and it also increases buy-in since they are agreeing.

It is usually best to ask questions with simple yes or no responses.

For example, we might say something like Take a few moments to fully absorb that, and then allow that head to nod. This gives them time to process whatever we’ve done, and gives us a mechanism to know when they are ready to continue.

Sometimes we want to be a little more indirect, and might say something like And not yet, but in a moment, just as soon as you’ve come to fully appreciate and implement that, you will find a sign to give me that you’re ready. Perhaps that index finger on your right hand will twitch. Or that entire arm might float up into the air all by itself. Whatever it is, all you have to do is allow that change to happen now and your unconscious will send me that signal when it’s ready.

And sometimes, we just want to ask a very simple question like And when you’re ready to proceed, that finger will twitch now. Are you ready to proceed?

There is almost infinite variety possible at this stage. Choose some kind of physical movement, tell them that it’s a signal for something, and then tell them that they will give that signal when they are ready.

3. Wait For The Ideomotor Response

After making the suggestion, wait for the ideomotor response to happen.

Sometimes when I do this, I continue to talk about random stuff that supports whatever’s going on.

And usually I just shut up and wait.

4. Acknowledge The Response

When you observe the ideomotor response, acknowledge it.

This can be as simple as using Erickson’s That’s right or it can be long and drawn out.

The key thing is to make it clear to them that you have noticed the unconscious response.

5. Reiterate The Meaning Of The Response

Usually I will flow directly into telling them what the unconscious response means.

For example: That’s right and now that finger is twitching like this, and your unconscious is ready to proceed, it’s time for…

6. Continue On With The Rest Of The Session

The ideomotor response is being used to mine the subject’s mind for information mid-session, so we continue on with the rest of the session.

Any time we want to get some kind of agreement or confirmation from our subject, we can simply ask another question and suggest another unconscious physical response.

How To Mine Your Own Unconscious Mind

To use the ideomotor effect to extract information from your own unconscious mind, create and calibrate a pendulum, allow your mind to clear, and then ask questions with simple yes or no answers.

In order to mine our own mind, we need to take an approach that minimizes the risk of conscious interference.

There are any number of ways this can be done, and one of the simplest is the Chevreul pendulum.

It’s important to be aware of the limitations of this process.

Ask yourself if it’s feasible for your unconscious mind to know.

If you are going to ask about the presence of water for dowsing, this is feasible since underground water undoubtedly shapes the landscape in ways that our conscious mind does not notice, but our unconscious mind might.

By the same token, if you want to know if a specific number will come up in the next draw of your favorite lottery, we don’t currently know of any mechanism by which your unconscious could know that.

So dowsing might work if your unconscious has noticed something, but predicting lottery numbers is unlikely to other than by pure chance.

1. Create A Chevreul Pendulum

To create a Chevreul pendulum, find a piece of string, twine, or something similar that can swing easily. Trim it to between 1 foot and 1.5 feet in length. Then attach a small weight to the end.

The weight can be anything you’ve got at hand.

When I’ve made these in the past, it’s usually been with a piece of string and a nut or bolt.

2. Allow Your Mind To Clear

Take a few moments to clear any thoughts out of your mind.

This can be as simple as noticing the details of the pendulum. Hold it in your hands and notice the weight, the texture, and anything else that springs to mind.

I find that the easiest way to clear my mind is to use a mental switch to hypnotize myself.

3. Calibrate Your Pendulum

Hold the pendulum between two fingers so that it can swing freely. Try to hold it still so that it does not move at all.

Next, ask yourself a simple question with a yes answer. You can use any question for which you consciously know the answer for this part. Even a question like am I holding a pendulum right now.

The pendulum will start to either swing back and forth, or it will rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. Notice how it moves. This pendulum response indicates a yes.

Repeat for a question with a no answer.

If you want to convince yourself of the calibration, ask several questions of each type.

Some people like to write out the behaviors on a sheet of paper and swing the pendulum over it. I have never found this to be necessary.

I’ve also found that there are some days when it just doesn’t work and the pendulum does not swing. When this happens, I just wait until another day and try again. So far it’s never not worked for two days in a row.

4. Use Your Chevreul Pendulum To Query Your Unconscious Mind

To extract information from your unconscious mind, hold the pendulum between two fingers, wait for it to stop swinging, then ask your question with a yes or no answer.

Build confidence by asking multiple questions around the same general idea.

For example, suppose you would like to extract your unconscious opinion on whether you should go to Bermuda for your vacation. Questions you could ask might include:

  • Do I want to go to Bermuda?
  • Do I enjoy tropical islands?
  • Will I enjoy swimming in the ocean?
  • Do I enjoy warm weather?

And so on.


The Ideomotor Effect can be a powerful method to extract information directly from the unconscious mind. For best results, be careful to only attempt to extract things it is possible that the unconscious mind could know.

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