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You are feeling sleepy…or are you? In a hypnotism performance, ordinary people seem to somehow become puppets, made to talk in silly accents, or act like a baby or in other embarrassing ways. But have they really lost command of their bodies, or are they just pretending?

Now we have some of the best evidence yet that people who are hypnotised really feel like they are acting involuntarily. When estimating split-second timings, hypnotised people behaved as though their actions were outside their control, in ways that would have been difficult to fake.

Hypnotism has long been contentious. Sceptics think that rather than being in some kind of special state of altered consciousness, hypnotised people do as they’re told because it would be socially awkward not to. People who are highly susceptible to hypnosis – about one in ten of us – could just be especially suggestible and eager to please, say the cynics.

Now Peter Lush at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science in Brighton, UK, and his team have used a known trick of the mind to investigate this mystery. When we think we have done something that causes something else, we perceive these two events to occur closer in time than if we think they are unrelated. For example, if we think that pushing a button makes a sound, it seems like the sound occurs sooner after pushing the button than if we think they’re independent events – a phenomenon called “intentional binding”.

Read more on the New Scientist blog

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