The punditry class has been gushing over how pulmonologist, Dr. Martin Tobin — gentile Irishman from Ireland — absolutely enthralled the jury in the George Floyd murder trial. I’ve heard such hyperbolic adjectives as spellbound, mesmerized, captivated, transfixed. You’d think he was a veritable Svengali or Mesmer or something.
If you haven’t watched any of the coverage, here’s his testimony in its entirety. You won’t watch it even if it were shorter, but for completeness, I give you the opportunity.
The question is how did he do it? Is there a technique he used or is it just charismatic magic?
I recognized it immediately upon hearing him speak. The answer is simple. It is his cadence and intonation. The way he paced his words and emphasized them. I doubt it was deliberate, though. I bet it is just his “natural” way of speaking, but it is also a hypnotic technique. As a trained hypnotist who has hypnotized people and been hypnotized, it was readily evident.
What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is the ability to induce an internal state of being in which a person is at a heightened susceptibility of suggestion. In the vernacular, the hypnotist induces a trance and offers suggestions for behaviors and mental processes. There are some amazing YouTube videos out there of entertainers and therapeutic professionals using hypnosis to amuse and help people. There’s everything from the lurid orgasm gun to pain reduction during tooth extraction. Because I live a stupidly complex life, I actually can’t do a google search for the orgasm gun, but you can. You should. It’s good clean fun.
Many people believe that hypnosis isn’t real, but it is, and most of us have been in a trance and susceptible to suggestion. If you’ve ever been driving at night and gotten “white-line fever” or gone to a matinee and been surprised at the time of day the movie finished, you’ve been in a trance. If you ever wanted a hamburger or French fries or whatever after watching a commercial about it, then you’ve reacted to a suggestion. Our level of awareness fluctuates quite naturally throughout the day.
Hypnosis! What is it?
No one really knows exactly how or why hypnosis works. Not everyone is equally susceptible to hypnotic trance induction or is equally suggestible. Nevertheless, if you go through the induction steps correctly, you can induce a trance in someone and give them suggestions, and they’re likely to follow.
Our brains are very complicated. There are like 100 billion neurons with 100 trillion connections between neurons. Every behavior and mental processes we have, everything we experience is the result of some sequence of neural activity. To produce a specific behavior or mental process, you have to synchronize numerous neural structures and neurons. Since we use all of our brain all of the time, there are lots of things happening in our brain all the time. All of them have to be coordinated so that they don’t conflict and cancel each other out.
In other words, synchronization is a very important function in our nervous system and brain. When we heighten the number of neural systems being synchronized and relax the overly worrying parts of our mind, the more likely we’ll enter into a trance. So, to induce a hypnotic trance, you try to get someone’s attention, breathing, and muscular relaxation to synchronize. Commonly, you use your voice to do so.
What did Dr. Tobin do?
Listen to Dr. Tobin’s voice. Maybe play the video but don’t watch the moving picture part. Note the qualities of his voice, especially in contrast to the questioning lawyers.
Calm even tone. He speaks in a very calm even tone. It is relaxing. That is the first ingredient to inducing a trance. No one is deeply relaxed, though. They are not going into a deep trance or falling asleep. Yet, they are in a relaxed state, especially when he’s talking.
Cadence. Then, he has a subtle, but distinct pause at the end of the phrases in his speech. Listen to it. He will pause… when he reaches… the end of… a grammatically… distinct phrase. It sets up an anticipation in your listener. That cadence of your speech causes your listener to pay attention and await what will come next. There is a curiosity that a person feels.
More importantly, though, the listener begins to predict what will come next using our unconscious knowledge of the language and topic. We all know when nouns, verbs, and adjectives should appear in a sentence. You may not realize it, but when the rules are violated, you notice.
When you make a prediction that is accurate, you get a little spritz of dopamine in your reward system and it causes you to want one more! You want that feeling again. So, you pay closer attention and try to predict more and you don’t even know you’re doing it!
That’s the second ingredient of inducing a trance.
Intonation. Another subtle thing he does is drop his voice at the end of the phrases just before the pause, and then gives a slight emphasis to the first syllable of the next phrase. It helps synchronize your auditory cortex — the part of the brain that interprets what you’re hearing — with your attention and your relaxation.
That’s the third ingredient of inducing a trance.
Requests. The pundits were impressed that the jurors all looked at him when he spoke and when he suggested that they touch their necks here or some other small action, they did! They were responding to suggestion.
When everyone around you is doing it, too, you are now synchronizing your behaviors with your neighbors and Dr. Tobin.
It really is that simple. One of the greatest hypnotists in the history of humankind, Milton Erickson, said that if you want someone to enter a trance, you should be in a trance, too. It has been well established that if you want someone to feel like they are in agreement with you, you mimic their posture and positioning. If you want to relax more, you then begin to lead their positioning into a more relaxed state. If you breathe in time with someone and then begin to slow your breathing, they will, too. When you breath more slowly and deeply, you relax.
Dr. Tobin put the jurors and all of us into a mild trance. It is as simple as that. And, it made his testimony devastatingly effective. He said George Floyd was aphysiated and died three minutes before Chauvin go off of his neck. The testimony was spellbinding and his conclusions convincing because of it.
You can use these techniques to your advantage, too. You just need to practice a little.