One element of misdirection used by magician Derren Brown is to apparently place subjects into a catatonic state with the use of flashing lights or physical manipulation of the hands or arms. For example, in this video, at about 2:10, Brown appears to make someone lose track of several hours of time by pulling their arm.

In essence, Brown gives the impression here that he is using a technique that hypnotherapists call "handshake induction", which supposedly will put the subject into a cataleptic trance.

Catalepsy or catatonia can be induced with the use of drugs, but I have been unable to discover any medical evidence that either can be induced without drugs.

Is there any evidence that so-called "handshake-induction" or a similar technique has, or can have, a pronounced physical effect?

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    We have already established that what Derren Brown says he is doing, while on stage, is not really a notable/reliable claim. We've also covered stage hypnosis. If you have another source of this claim, edit it in. Otherwise, I would suggest this is a duplicate.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 29, 2012 at 16:14
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    The DSM-IV (via Wikipedia) says catatonia exists. Brown says he can put people in a catatonic state, but that is irrelevant. So, who is actually making a claim you are skeptical about? Does anyone else claim that flashing lights leads to catatonia? If not, there's no notability here.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 3:35
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    Surely Derren Brown is a distraction: the core question is whether there are non-drug related ways to induce catalepsy.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 8:12
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    @matt_black: Does a handshake interrupt that takes a few seconds put people into catalepsy is a different question then: "Are there non-drug related ways to induce catalepsy"?. I think this question would be improved if it would focus on one claim. - If you wanted to focus on the handshake interrupt it would be better to leave Derren Brown out of it and instead take something like: youtube.com/watch?v=_OewGqijOsA | It's a seminar where the instructur wants to teach the handshake interrupt and isn't doing it for a show effect.
    – Christian
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 9:58
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    @philsodad: Dentists are a profession with a need to get their patients into a state where they don't feel the pain. Dave Elman produced a method that a bunch of dentists use for that purpose. As a patient in a dentist chair will follow the verbal instructions of the dentist anyway, there's no need to use something like an handshake interrupt. A Dave Elman induction takes a few minutes. A show hypnotist doesn't have a few minutes. A dentist or anyone who uses hypnosis for therapeutic ends has those minutes. What do you care about? Workings of show effects? Therapeutic effects?
    – Christian
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 23:11

1 Answer 1


The handshake method, I believe, originates from Milton H. Erickson. Here is an excerpt from The Letters of Milton H. Erickson:

Relation to catatonia: Briefly, so far as I can tell, there is no real relationship between self-induced trances and catatonia.

A recovered catatonia in excellent remission, trained to be a good hypnotic subject, impresses upon one most effectively the profound difference between catatonia and the trance state in the same person. If that recovered catatonic, now trained as a hypnotic subject, is made to relive a previous catatonic state in the hypnotic trance, the hypnotic elements drop out of the picture as soon as he begins reliving the catatonic state and rapport is lost, and he ceases to be amenable to suggestion until he makes his own spontaneous recovery from this new induced catatonic state. If, however, one succeeds in maintaining hypnotic rapport with the subject, it is impossible to get him to relive the catatonic period except in an obviously false way.

In other words, Brown's use of the word 'catatonic' is probably misdirection. I hope that answers your question!

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