Undercover: Macquarie Sleep Experiment

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Words || Max Lewis

I don’t really know a lot about hypnosis. My only exposure has been stuff like that episode of the Simpsons where Homer does it, revealing deep-seated trauma of him seeing a dead body (which he then overcomes in a 15 minute arc because that’s definitely how PTSD works), or Jordan Peele’s 2017 opus Get Out where hypnosis is used for racism.

My only experience with University studies is stuff like the abhorrent Stanford Prison Experiment which is still talked about today for mostly the wrong reasons (although the movie on Netflix is pretty decent).  When I saw an ad floating around asking for students to participate in a hypnosis study led by MQ’s Cognitive Science department I jumped at it, half out of curiosity of university studies and hypnosis, and half because the possibility of me being reprogrammed to kill the Prime Minister was way too tempting. After expressing my interest and receiving the a-ok from the research assistant, I ventured down to the Hearing Hub with a clear and open mind.

After collecting everybody, the research assistant (whom I’ll refer to as Turk from the hit TV Drama Scrubs) ushered everyone down some winding hallways into a small room consisting of some chairs facing a laptop. He handed out consent forms which I skim-read before signing, because I live life by the seat of my pants. After a brief explanation about the purpose of the study, and a reassurance that we could leave at any time, he pressed play on the laptop, and we began.

A strangely neutral female voice much like my Mum’s old meditation tapes began to speak, reinforcing that hypnosis is a completely natural phenomenon, and we would not be told to do anything harmful or embarrassing. The voice (whom I’ll refer to as Elliot from the hit TV Drama Scrubs) urged us to relax our body and focus at a spot on our hands, henceforth referred to as ‘the target’. The use of ‘the target’ wigged me out a little, as it seemed like it was setting us up to be ruthless hitmen. Nonetheless, I picked a spot on my hand and began to stare at it, becoming acutely aware that they looked very splotchy and almost scaley in this light. I keep meaning to moisturise my hands but then they just get clammy, and doesn’t that kinda defeat the – wait what did she say? Right. Focus on my hand and feel myself relax more and more. You got it, Elliot. Ugh, now my face is itching, and I can’t move because it’ll disturb the other students. But I can’t concentrate on the hypnosis while my face is itchy! I just have to scratch it… and done. But now I’m filled with this inexplicable urge to crack my knuckles. I can FEEL the bones in there and I hate it, I just have to move my hands even a little. Ok, that’s better. But now my thigh is itchy…

You get the idea. Due to my anxiety and probably other undiagnosed issues I wasn’t able to relax at all, and as such literally nothing in the hypnotic induction worked on me. We were asked to do things like extend our arms with palms facing each other and feel as though the hands were being drawn to each other like magnets, or to enter a dream state and later recall what we saw – no result.  Instead I spent my time peeking out of the corners of my eyes at what the other students were doing without alerting Turk, who was watching our reactions. I saw other participants reacting to instructions but there was no way to tell if it was hypnosis induced or them just playing along.

After the 35 minute hypnosis session we were asked to complete a small booklet with questions like ‘What do you remember doing during the experiment?’ and ‘What things did you see/feel/experience’. I felt pretty bad that I had to write ‘nothing’ on everything, while other participants wrote what looked like pretty thorough answers. There was a section on the back for me to express my interest in further studies, but somehow I know they won’t be asking me back.

Even though it was uneventful the experience itself was pretty interesting. I got to experience what hypnosis might be like if my brain worked properly, and it was pretty cool seeing what actually goes on in those academic studies I’ve read countless papers on. I mean, the entire hour I was in there I was losing my mind from anxiety and discomfort, but this time I got paid fifteen whole dollars for it, so hooray for science!

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