My favourite TV detective has always been Columbo (played by Peter Falk). I have watched every single one of the 69 episodes (as my family will attest) many times. While I am working, I will often have Columbo on in the background in the way that other people have music on in the background (although I do the latter as well). For those reading this that have not come across Columbo, here is a brief synopsis from Wikiquote:
“Columbo (1968, 1971-1978, 1989-2003) was an American crime fiction television show about Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He uses his deferential and absent-minded persona to lull criminal suspects into a false sense of security, by harassing and pestering suspects non-stop – without letting them know that they’re suspects – under the pretense that he’s simply being a pesky detective, in order to spy on them and agitate them into giving up clues”.
I have asked myself many times why I love the iconic show so much and it’s hard to put my finger on any single reason. One of the things I love about the show is that almost all the episodes are a ‘reverse whodunit’ (often referred to as an ‘open mystery’) in which the viewer knows the identity of the murderer(s) and we watch to see how Lt. Columbo uncovers who the killer or killers are. (I say “almost all” because there are actually a few episodes that are more typical ‘whodunits’ such as 1976’s ‘Last Salute To The Commodore’, 1992’s ‘No Time To Die’ [involving a kidnapping rather than a murder] and 1994’s ‘Undercover’). Another aspect I love is the inherent contradictions in Lt. Columbo’s day-to-day behaviour. His dishevelled clothing (the infamous beaten-up raincoat), his apparently bumbling absent-minded nature, and his habit of going off-topic in conversations, but knowing that he is actually one of the most astute and clever detectives that you are ever likely to meet (he would no-doubt fit the description of the stereotypical ‘absent-minded professor’). As a psychologist I find him fascinating. As an article about Columbo on the Cult TV Lounge rightly notes:
“The emphasis is on the psychological duel between detective and suspect, with (mercifully) no interest in social commentary and few concessions to the ‘realism’ that would become more and more of a fetish in TV cop shows during the course of the 70s. This is pure entertainment and it’s all the better for it”.
And finally, it is Lt. Columbo’s brilliant trademark ‘false exits’ that wrongfoot all the murderers. After most informal interrogations with the murderer, Columbo leaves the scene, only to return a few seconds later with the opening gambit of “there’s just one more thing” (or a variant of the phrase) only for it to be the most important question that he “forgot to ask”. As an obituary at the In The Dark website on Peter Falk noted:
“The more trivial the “thing” is, the more damning it proves. As an application of psychology, it’s a superb tactic and it slowly but surely grinds down the criminal’s resistance. Often the murderer’s exasperation at Columbo’s relentless badgering leads to rash actions and errors; the second murder, if there is one, is never as carefully planned as the first”.
As the selected (emboldened) quotes above show, psychology is an integral part of Columbo’s appeal. I was also surprised to find that clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists have used Lt. Columbo’s modus operandi in their day-to-day work. (In fact, even some writers claim that if you want to be a better writer you should watch Columbo according to an article by Shahan Mufti in the New York Times; also, a number of marketing gurus claim that Lt. Columbo can teach marketers a thing or two – check out ‘10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo’). For instance, in an article on motivational interviewing (MI) via the Australian Mental Health Academy describe the ‘Columbo approach’:
“Proponents of motivational interviewing owe a debt of gratitude to the 1970s television series Columbo…[Columbo] was a master of the skill of ‘deploying discrepancies’, and MI therapists/practitioners can use the same skill to get clients to help them make sense of their (the clients’) discrepancies. With the Columbo approach, an interviewer makes a curious enquiry about discrepant behaviours without being judgmental or blaming. In a non-confrontational manner, information that is contradictory is juxtaposed, allowing the therapist to address discrepancies between what clients say and their behaviour without evoking defensiveness or resistance. Wherever possible when deploying discrepancies, practitioners are encouraged to end the reflection on the side of change, as clients are more likely to elaborate on the last part of the statements”
The article then goes on to explicitly describe specific MI interventions using the ‘Columbo approach’. Another online article by Greg Lhamon (‘A simple trick to make a powerful last impression’) describes the ‘Columbo Technique’. Here is an abridged version:
“One way in which you can leave someone with a powerful last impression is to use…“the Columbo Technique”…named after the lovable yet shrewd TV detective from the 1970s…He was unassuming and appeared almost absent-minded as he questioned a murder suspect. Yet his seemingly random line of questioning was the process by which he built an airtight case against the suspect. At the conclusion of every interview, he did something unique: he’d thank the suspect profusely, step toward the door, stop, and then turn back, and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Then he’d ask one last question, a particularly damning question that let the suspect know that Lieutenant Columbo was onto him. Like every form of good communication, sincerity is critical. It cannot be contrived. The goal is simply to make a strong, memorable point, not to manipulate someone. The process is simple: (1) hold back a critical piece of information and reserve it for the end of the meeting, (2) right before you part company, share the information or ask a question, and (3) enjoy the response you receive”.
A 2009 article in the American Bar Association Journal reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to ‘Think Columbo’. The advice given was that police should focus on what suspects say rather than their behaviour (such as fidgeting, sweating, and averting eyes during an interview). After reviewing interrogation tapes, Professor Ray Bull, a British forensic psychologist told the Times newspaper that British police use an investigative interviewing technique:
“These interviews sound much more like a chat in a bar. It’s a lot like the old Columbo show, you know, where he pretends to be an idiot but he’s gathered a lot of evidence.”
The ABA article also included comments from American psychologist Kevin Colwell, who said that suspects that lie in police interviews “often prepare a script that doesn’t have much detail”. Colwell recommended using interview techniques where the individual undergoing questioning should talk about the event in question more than once “adding details in retelling the event about things such as sounds and smells” and asking the person “to recall the event in reverse” and that:
“Those who tell the truth tend to add 20% to 30% more external detail than do those who are lying. Those who are adept at lying may start to feel more strain if the interviewer introduces evidence throughout the questioning that has been previously uncovered. Detective Columbo, it turns out, was not just made for TV”.
Another reason I love Columbo because a number of episodes featured psychologists and/or psychiatrists as the killer, most of who used their psychological expertise to carry out an ingenious murder. This included the episodes ‘Prescription Murder’ (1968 – the first ever episode; Dr. Ray Flemming who uses his high intelligence rather than his psychiatric expertise to murder his wife), ‘Double Exposure’ (1973; Dr. Bart Kepple, a consumer psychologist who uses subliminal advertising to lure his victim to be killed), ‘A Deadly State Of Mind’ (1975; Dr. Marcus Collier, a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to make his victim jump from a high rise apartment), ‘How To Dial A Murder’ (1978; Dr. Eric Mason, a behavioural psychologist who uses classical conditioning to train his dogs to kill his victim), and ‘Sex And The Married Detective’ (1998; Dr. Joan Allenby, a sex therapist who uses her knowledge of psychosexual roleplay to ensnare and kill her lover). In one episode (‘How To Dial A Murder’), Columbo and the psychologist Dr. Eric Mason have an interesting exchange:
Dr. Eric Mason: You’re a fascinating man, Lieutenant. Columbo: To a psychologist, sir? Dr. Eric Mason: You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you’re laying a mine field and wagging your tail.
As an ex-Professor of Gambling Studies, another aspect that I have noticed is how many episodes of Columbo feature gamblers and gambling that are often integral to the storyline. Gambling is a key feature in the episodes ‘Double Shock’ (1973; the murderer Norman Paris, a banker, is featured at a Las Vegas casino running up gambling debts), ‘A Friend in Deed’ (1974; the murderer Mark Halperin, a deputy police commissioner, is shown in his opening scene to be a regular casino gambler), ‘Uneasy Lies The Crown’ (1990; the murderer, Dr. Wesley Corman is a dentist and a compulsive gambler), ‘Death Hits The Jackpot’ (1991; photographer and murder victim Freddy Brower wins a $30 million on the lottery and is killed by his uncle Leon Lamarr), ‘A Bird In The Hand’ (1992; would-be murderer Harold McCain, a compulsive gambler tries to murder his millionaire uncle, owner of a US football team), ‘All in The Game’ (1993; murder victim Nick Franco is a playboy and high stakes poker player killed by his lover Laura Staton), and ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (1995; Randy McVeigh the murder victim owes money for gambling debts to the Mafia and is killed by his brother Graham who has ‘inherited’ his brother’s debt).
In another episode (‘Troubled Waters’, 1975), it turns out that the killer (Hayden Danzinger, an autocar executive) is also a regular casino gambler but this only comes to light late in the episode when Lt. Columbo talks to his wife (Sylvia Danzinger). Here we learn that Lt. Columbo thinks about slot machines:
Columbo: You see that fellow over there playing the slot machines? Waste of money. I’ve played it 44 times. I won once right at the beginning and I never won again. Sylvia Danzinger: You can’t beat ‘em. I don’t even try. Columbo: You’re not a gambler? Sylvia Danzinger: No, I prefer more quiet activities. Columbo: That’s funny. I was under the impression you and your husband went to Las Vegas quite a few times. Sylvia Danzinger: Oh, no. Hayden goes often but without me. I wouldn’t be caught dead there.
I’ve often wondered if gambling was an important issue (positive or negative) for Peter Falk in his private life, because when he wasn’t playing Lt. Columbo, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in gambling-related acting roles. Most notably, he played an ageing bookmaker Vinnie in the 1988 film Money Kings (also known under the title Vig, a film about the illegal world of gambling), and the 1988 film Pronto he played Harry Arno, a sports bookmaker who stole money from the local mafia boss Jimmy Capatorto. He also played the poker player Waller in a 1960 episode of Have Gun – Will Travel (‘Poker Fiend‘), and in the 1970 film Husbands he played Archie Black, one of three men undergoing mid-life crises following the death of their friend who then who all go to Europe to gamble, drink, and womanise.
If you’ve got this far, I’ll just leave you with the answers to a couple of my favourite Columbo trivia questions. The most asked question concerning Lt. Columbo (like Inspector Morse) is what was his first name. (When asked the same question in the series itself, Columbo would answer ‘Lieutenant’!). Lt. Columbo never once revealed his first name verbally in the series but did once flash his police badge in an early episode (‘Dead Weight’; Episode 3, Series 1) and accidentally revealed his name was Frank. The second most asked question is how Peter Falk lost his eye. Falk had his eye removed at the age of three years (due to cancer) and had a glass eye for the rest of his life. Although Falk had a glass eye, fans debated for years whether Lt. Columbo had only one eye. The answer was revealed in the 25th anniversary episode (‘A Trace of Murder’) when Lt. Columbo asked the murderer (Patrick Kinsley, a forensic expert) to look at something with him because “three eyes are better than one”!
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Burns, S. (2016). The Columbo Episode Guide. Located at: http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/episode.htm
Changing Minds (2013). The Columbo Technique. Located at: http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/columbo_technique.htm
Dawidziak, M. (1989). The Columbo Phile. Mysterious Press.
D For Doom (2015). Columbo, Season 1 (1971). Cult TV Lounge, July 3. Located at: http://cult-tv-lounge.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/columbo-season-one-1971.html
Haynes, N. (2012). Guide to TV detectives: No.1. The Guardian, January 23. Located at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/jan/23/natalie-haynes-detectives-columbo
Henley, J. (2013). 10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo – yes, Columbo. Rock The Deadline, November 24. Located at: http://rockthedeadline.com/blog/content-marketing/10-things-marketers-can-learn-from-columbo-yes-columbo/
Mental Health Academy (2015). Principles and techniques of motivational interviewing. January 12. Located at: http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/principles-and-techniques-of-motivational-interviewing/
Mufti, S. (2013). Want to write better? Watch Columbo. New York Times (The 6th Floor), September 25. Located at: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/want-to-write-better-watch-columbo/?_r=2
Telescoper (2011). In memorium: Peter Falk (1927-2011). In The Dark, https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/in-memoriam-peter-falk-1927-2011/
Weiss, D.C. (2009). The best way to interrogate: Think Columbo. American Bar Association, May 12. Located at: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/the_best_way_to_interrogate_think_columbo/
Wikipedia (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbo
Wikipedia (2016). List of Columbo episodes. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Columbo_episodes
Wikipedia (2016). Peter Falk. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Falk
Wikiquote (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Columbo
The one thing about sexual fetishes that always amazes me is how specific some people’s sexual likes and interests are. One such fetish is fingernail fetish. According to Dr. Ellen McCallum’s book Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism, this fetish is a specific sub-type of hand fetishism (as other sub-types include finger fetishism and palm fetishism or include non-sexual specific actions done by the hands such as washing up or drying the dishes). According to the Wikipedia entry on hand fetishism, “this fetish may manifest itself as a desire to experience physical interaction, or as a source of sexual fantasy”. A quick look online suggests that the fetish exists as there are various dedicated websites catering for all sexual fingernail needs such as the Fingernail Fetish website (“a collection of soft-core image galleries and video catering to those with a long-nail fetish”) and the one run by the Pinterest website.
Fingernail fetishes are certainly referenced by leading academics and clinicians in the sexology field although most of the references to it point out its existence but give little information with respect to incidence, prevalence, or etiological development. For instance, the Austrian psychologist Dr. Wilhelm Stekel in his 1952 book Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex noted:
“The true fetish lover dispenses with a sexual partner and gratifies himself with a symbol. This symbol can be represented by a piece of clothing, a part of the partner’s body (pubic hair, nails braid or pigtail) or any object used by the other person”.
Similarly, Dr. Martin Kafka in one of his many papers in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on sexual fetishism also made reference to the fetishization of fingernails without giving any detail:
“Fetishes tend to be articles of clothing, such as female undergarments, shoes and boots, or, more rarely, parts of the body such as hair or nails. Technically, hair and nails are body products but they are also ‘’non-living objects’ consistent with the DSM-III definition of fetishism. Feet, hands, or other typically non-sexualized parts of the body are not ‘non-living objects,’ however, and there was no diagnostic entity offered in DSM- III to account for persons whose fetishism-like clinical disorder was delimited by an exclusive focus on non-sexual body parts, such as hands or feet…As was noted in DSM-III, body products, such as hair or fingernails, can become obligatory fetish objects”.
Having carried out an extensive literature search on academic databases, the only case of fingernail fetishism that I was able to locate was a 1972 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, by Dr. Austin McSweeny who successfully treated a young male fingernail fetishist using hypnosis. I also came across a 2001 Spanish paper written by Dr. Jaime Tabares that the title translated as “Fetish perversion: From pathological mourning to alienating manic identification” and published in Revista de Psicoanalisis de la Asociacion Psicoanalitica de Madrid. The paper discussed the case of a 24-year Spanish male and the role of depression, paranoid anxiety, and pathological mourning in the development of masculine perversion and fetishism. The only reason I mention this paper is that the author mentioned that one of the fetishes (along with his masochistic fantasies) was for painted nails.
Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) reported a truly bizarre case involving necrophilia and fingernails. Citing from a 1963 book by Dr. R. Masters and Dr. A. Lea (Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving Concepts of Sadism, Lust-Murder, and Necrophilia – From Ancient to Modern Times.), Aggrawal briefly described the case of a man who derived his sexual gratification from eating the nail trimmings of corpses. I have no idea if this would count as a genuine case of fingernail fetishism, but it’s certainly a case of someone who was gained sexual gratification from fingernails (albeit from dead people).
In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish form data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). They devised a scheme whereby a person’s sexual preference could be assigned to one or more of three particular categories (fetishes for particular body parts, fetishes for particular objects, and/or fetishes for different behaviours. Scorrolli and colleagues said: “these were further subdivided to describe, in broad terms preferences for (the examples in parentheses come from our data)” and one of these specifically gave the example of fingernails (in this case, a sexual fetish for the biting of fingernails):
- A part or feature of the body (e.g., feet or overweight individuals), including body modifications (e.g., tattoos).
- An object usually experienced in association with the body (e.g., shoes or headphones).
- An object not usually associated with the body (e.g., dirty dishes, candles).
- An event involving only inanimate objects (they found no examples).
- A person’s own behavior (e.g., biting fingernails).
- A behavior of other persons (e.g., smoking or fighting).
- A behavior or situation requiring an interaction with others (e.g., domination or humiliation role play).
They reported that some of the sites featured references to nail fetishes comprising a total of 669 group members. This accounted for less than 1% of all fetish site members. I would also add that having read the paper and examined some of the sites given, I’m not convinced that all of these were fingernail fetishists as some of the fetish websites found (like ‘Bed of Nails’) may be sadomasochistic sites where the sexual focus is nails that are hammered rather than nails on the hand.
In my research for this article, I also came across lots of self-confessed fingernail fetishists. Here are a few examples:
- Extract 1: “I am trying to get out more and understand why my fetish for long nails is big for me. Well it all started when I was 5 years old as a little kid. I was getting babysit by my cousin’s girlfriend and well you know she had nice long natural nails about 1 inch, inch and half, and she always was filing them, round and a little pointy too, and painting them. I used to watch and get hypnotized by that. So one day she was watching her soap operas…I decided to get up and change the channel…She warned me if I changed the channel again, I would know what her long nails are for. So she came to me I ran and hid, after I came back in the living room she surprised me from behind with one of the hardest pinches I ever experienced in my entire life… I almost felt paralysed by that pain, and after that she scratched me, hard enough to cry and it hurt. But a few days after that she tried to scratch me again when she came, and all of a sudden I was getting aroused, so she said ‘I wont hurt you this time, but I would love to be able to scratch you if you let me’. So I let her, and she started very slowly and increased the pressure as time went by, it was getting to be a new experience for me, We had set little rules and boundaries to stick by too. So she would only scratch till I got red, and if I bled…I agreed to that [be]cause she loved to scratch hard and be rough, so she had to see a little blood to be satisfied I guess. [Now] you now know how my long nails fetish got started and was born” (JayG).
- Extract 2: “I definitely became aware of my fetish around 5 or 6 [years old] when I started to become aroused and curious to what the nails must feel like on my skin…A few years later it became more weird when I started to have scratching fantasies before going to sleep giving me my first wave of self-induced erections. Nobody who doesn’t have a fetish like this gets turned on like that at such a young age. It must be highly abnormal. But we ARE freaks of nature I guess” (Saba).
- Extract 3: “My nail fascination also began when I was quite young, but I most certainly was not physically sexually arousable at the age of 5 [years] by the sight or feel of nails. …Those early encounters I sometimes catch myself re-writing my own history with respect to the arousal part, because it’s hard to imagine myself not being physically aroused by nails, but in reality, I wasn’t, not physically. Nails didn’t do ‘that’ to me until I properly began puberty. What I felt at 5 was the excitement of the danger that nails posed (girls of 5 used their nails as weapons, I had no inkling they could also be instruments of pleasure), and certainly a heightened awareness of the differences between the genders. Even before I knew girls had different genitalia, I recognised they were meant to have long nails and we were not” (Scott).
- Extract 4: “I was around 5 or 6 (years old] is when I got fascinated by girls and women’s nails. This was way back about 55 years ago. I don’t remember seeing [long] nails…until I was 12 or 13. But if a girl had nails, she usually had them as a means of protecting herself. And hard pinching was the preferred technique. And some of the girls were very effective. I remember one girl whose nails weren’t that long, but were filed to a point. Another girl stopped cutting her nails when she was 12. I only saw her once after that time, but most of her nails must have been around 1/2 inch long, and she knew how to use them and she had a real mean streak. I guess there has always been something fascinating about a girl who might be smaller and weaker than any of the boys, but could put real fear into them. Also the thought always occurred that if the young girls could cause so much pain with their relatively short nails, what could an adult woman with much longer nails do to someone?” (MJ2)
- Extract 5: “I’ve got something with me that started out fun, but has turned into a problem. I’ve got a fetish for long nails. They turn me on so much. First when I was younger it was fun, I’d look at pics every now and then and get off to them. Now it’s turned into a 3 o 4 times a day thing. It’s really annoying. I feel like I’m in bondage to this. My goal is to quit masturbating all together cause I feel as though it’s holding me back spiritually. But everywhere I look I see long nails on women and I get so turned on. I’m having a hard time battling this” (SececaRD)
These are just a few of the many I have come across. There are a number of similarities in the first four extracts (which may be because they all come from the same online forum. The fetish appears to have begun in early childhood, and appears to have developed through associative pairing (i.e., classical conditioning). What’s more, there appears to be a sexually masochistic tendency among those who have the fetish. The final extract comes from a different person who unlike the other fetishists wants to eradicate his fetish. Most fingernail fetishist accounts that I read were happy living with their preferred fetish. This is certainly an area where the amount of clinical and academic research is limited and I can’t see further papers being published except from a treatment perspective should such a fetishist want to eliminate their sexual desire for fingernails.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Kafka, M. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for fetishism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 357-362.
Masters, R.E.L & Lea A.E.E. (1963). Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving Concepts of Sadism, Lust-Murder, and Necrophilia – From Ancient to Modern Times. New York: The Julian Press.
McCallum. E.L. (1998.) Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism. New York: State University of New York Press.
McSweeny, A.J. (1972). Fetishism: Report of a case treated with hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 15, 139-143.
Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.
Stekel, W. (1952). Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex (Vol. 1) (Trans., S. Parker). New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.
Tabares, J. (2001). La perversion fetichista: Del duelo patologico a la identification maniaca alienante. Revista de Psicoanalisis de la Asociacion Psicoanalitica de Madrid, 36, 55-78.
Wikipedia (2102). Hand fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_fetishism
Regular readers of my blog may remember that my first academically published papers were on hypnosis (as I recounted in a previous blog I did on hypnofetishism). Consequently, I’ve always had a passing interest in stage hypnotism although some of those that I’ve seen sail close to the wind in terms of their ethics. In fact the following online query raised some of the sort of questions I have often asked myself when watching such shows:
“My in-laws recently attended an ‘adults only’ hypnotist show in Las Vegas. The hypnotist selected audience members to be hypnotized. I’m sure you all know the drill here. The selected individuals did all sorts of sexual (or inferred sexual acts) from masturbating a teddy bear to having an orgasm when another sneezes…Is it ethical? Is it a form of abuse if these people were not in full control of their capacities? I would think in this day of lawsuit happy lawyers a participant could easily sue a hypnotist for ‘suggesting’ this type of behavior”
Over the last few years there have been a number of high profile stories about ‘X-rated’ stage hypnotists. For instance, in 2012, Colin Adamson’s “raunchy hypnosis show” was banned for being “too rude” by the University of Kent’s student union after the hypnotist got his participants to simulate sex acts and lap dances on stage. Some of those on stage were made to believe they were having orgasms while others simulated masturbation. One of the women that was hypnotized into believing she had been touched indecently by someone watching the show and was left ”too upset to speak”. Sadaeva president of the University of Kent Feminist Society was “disgusted” and was quoted as saying: “[Adamson] shows a lack of empathy towards rape victims and all women, and a lack of basic human decency – he has no place at a student union”.
One infamous case of problems with someone that participated in stage hypnotism was recounted by Dr. Michael Heap in a 2000 issue of the journal Contemporary Hypnosis (as well as on his own website). Heap was an expert witness for the defendant in a case he calls ‘Norman versus Byrnes’ (Mr. Byrnes was the defendant, the stage hypnotist; Mr. Norman, the plaintiff was the person on stage under hypnosis). Dr. Heap began by briefly reviewing the main issues:
“Mr. Norman’s story is that on Wednesday June 30th 1993, he took part in Mr. Byrnes’s stage hypnosis show at a hotel. At some point in the show Mr. Byrnes offered to help Mr. Norman give up smoking. Amongst other things, he gave him a post-hypnotic suggestion that from now on cigarettes would taste foul. Towards the end of the performance Mr. Byrnes suggested to his volunteers that as they were sitting in their chairs they would feel more and more sexy. He then hit his microphone repeatedly calling out ’10 times more sexy’, ’20 times more sexy’…..and so on. Mr. Norman seemed to become carried away; he stood up and made thrusting movements at the chair. Mr. Byrnes then suggested to the participants that when they went to bed that night they would feel even 50 times more sexy than they did then. Mr. and Mrs. Norman both confirmed that when they went to bed that night, as soon as Mr. Norman laid down on the mattress he started shaking violently and bouncing up and down. Mr. Norman claimed that he was having sexual intercourse with the mattress and that indeed he did find the mattress sexually attractive. Thus he continued simulating intercourse with the mattress and the other contents of his bed, with the exception of his wife”.
Mr. Norman had sex with his hotel bedroom furniture for about four hours (1am to 5am). When Mr. Norman stopped at one point to smoke a cigarette he became violently sick. On resuming his furniture sex, Mrs. Norman managed to stop the activity by blowing cigarette smoke into her husband’s face. Over the following days, Mr. Norman’s sexual urges diminished during the day but the uncontrollable urge to have sex with the furniture and other domestic appliances came back each night in the hotel room. Mr. Norman and his wife reported that the objects that became sexually attractive included all the bed’s contents, the hotel ceiling, a variety of ornaments in the hotel room, the room’s armchair, the hotel bath, and a tumble dryer. Dr. Heap then reported:
“On Monday, five days after her husband’s stage hypnosis experience, Mrs. Norman went to see a lawyer; on Wednesday Mr. Norman went to see his doctor. He was prescribed antidepressants and several days later his doctor ‘performed hypnotherapy on him to remove the post-hypnotic suggestion’ and this appeared to be successful. However, about three weeks later he was referred to a psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas, with ‘depression and delusions’ and violent behaviour. Dr. Thomas saw Mr. Norman on October 18th…Dr. Thomas ascribed Mr. Norman’s problems to Mr. Byrnes’s failure to take him ‘out of the hypnotic trance’…Things appeared to go quiet, and Mr. Norman did not receive any medication or treatment for these problems until four months later…Mr. Norman continued to present with a bewildering array of mental symptoms variously diagnosed as dissociative state, hypomania, hysteria, Ganser’s syndrome, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoid psychosis and schizo-affective disorder”.
Mr. Norman’s legal team then secured the services of a consultant psychiatrist Dr. James, who was former official of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis. Dr. James then made a number of allegations of negligence against Byrnes (e.g., Byrnes didn’t establish what the exact counter-suggestion should have been to dispel the post-hypnotic suggestion). Dr. Heap then claimed:
“When I consider these serious allegations against Mr. Byrnes, I cannot help hearing in my mind the music ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’. Dr. James casts Mr. Byrnes in the role of an inept would-be wizard whose task, under the stern eye of a properly qualified master wizard, is to discover the best counter-spell or incantation that would lift the evil curse with which he had previously inadvertently bewitched Mr. Norman…This case came to trial in September 1997. I sat in Court every day…but on the fifth day, long before the defence had opened its case, the trial collapsed. Mr. Norman’s financial backer withdrew, his legal aid having already been rescinded. The reason for the latter was as follows: had Mr. Norman won his case, the compensation that he would have received would have been claimed back by the state to offset the considerable welfare and sickness benefits he had received while indisposed. Thus he would have been financially no better off and legal aid is not granted when such is the case”.
Dr. Heap was under the view that Mr. Norman was “clearly malingering in his claims to have been afflicted with his unusual sexual compulsions”. Heap claimed that there were grounds for considering Norman’s symptoms as a factitious disorder (like Munchausen’s Syndrome).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Heap, M. (2000). A legal case of a man complaining of an extraordinary sexual disorder following stage hypnosis. Contemporary Hypnosis, 17(3), 143-149.
Heap, M. (2001). Some stories about hypnosis. The Skeptical Intelligencer, 3(4), 29-35
Heap, M. (2014). Some stories about hypnosis. Located at: http://www.mheap.com/hypnosis.html
In a previous blog I examined hypnofetishism (particularly because my first two or three academic publications back in the late 1980s were on hypnosis, and I have an interest in sexual paraphilia). While researching that article I came across a few studies that claimed breast size could be increased by hypnosis. As a consequence, this article briefly looks at the science behind the claims.
The first observation I would make is that the number of studies carried out in the area is really small, and (after a search of academic databases) there is little that has been carried out or published in scientific journals in the last 20 years. A number of sources claim the first use of hypnosis to increase breast size was carried out in the early 1920s but the earliest academic paper I have come across that presents some data on the topic is a 1960 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis by Dr. Milton Erikson. The paper comprised (what were essentially) anecdotal case reports of two women whose breasts were said to have got bigger following simple hypnotic suggestion imagery.
In 1969, Dr. Leslie Le Cron published a paper in the Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine. His study comprised a bigger sample of 20 women (aged between 20 and 35 years). Using a hypnotic visualization technique (where the women had to actually visualize their breasts getting bigger), he reported that breast size increased in most of the sample by about one and a half inches. A few of the women (n=3) reported no increase in breast size while 10% (n=2) were reported to have increased their bust size by two inches. (However, as has been poited out by a number of researchers, LeCron didn’t actually specify which part of the breast had been measured).
One of the better studies I have read was done by Dr. James Williams and published in a 1974 issue of the Journal of Sex Research. Williams’ sample consisted of 19 women (aged 18 to 40 years with a mean average of 24 years). The study comprised two stages. In the first phase six women were hypnotized one a week for 12 weeks. Three of the women received a hypnotic suggestion about breast size increase (i.e., to visualize larger breasts) whereas the other three were the control group and received no hypnotic suggestion. At the end of the 12 weeks, the control group showed no increases in bust size whereas the experimental group increased the breast size by an average of just over one and a half inches. In the second stage, a further 13 women underwent a course of hypnotic suggestion and results showed the women to have increased their circumference breast size by an average of 2.11 inches (i.e., two cup sizes).
In 1977, Dr. Allan Staib and Dr. D.R. Logan part replicated Williams’ study with three women who were given hypnotic suggestion. They published similar findings to Williams in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis (i.e., that hypnotic suggestion could increase breast size, with this study reporting an increased average of just under two inches). They also followed up the women and after three months, breast size had reduced (on average) by 19% compared to the end of the initial study.
Also in 1977, Dr. Richard Willard published a study in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. Using a slightly different technique to the previously published studies with a sample of 22 women (aged 19 to 54 years), Willard reported an average increase in breast size of nearly one and a half inches following a 12-week program. In this study, the women practiced self-hypnosis and visual imagery (rather than being hypnotized by a practitioner). Those who could best visualize their breasts getting bigger were the ones who showed the greatest increases in breast size. Other main findings reported were:
- 85% reported a significant breast enlargement before they had been measured
- 46% had to buy larger bras after the study
- The average increase in breast circumference was 1.37 inches
- The average increase in the vertical breast measurement was 0.67 inches
- The average increase in horizontal breast measurement was 1.01 inches
- Only two women who (subjectively) felt there was no significant increase, did (objectively) have a measurable increase in breast size
In an overview of five separate experimental studies (i.e., LeCron; Staib and Logan; Willard; Williams’ and an additional 1977 pilot study published by Dr. G.J. Honoites in the Journal of theInternational Society for Professional Hypnosis), they combined the results and reported that “over a twelve week period, the seventy women who participated in the five experiments showed an average increase of one and a quarter inches in the circumference of each breast”.
There are other more populist academic accounts of success with hypnosis being used to increase bust size by two to three cup sizes (such as Dr. Donald Wilson’s 1979 Natural Bust Enlargement With Total Mind Power, Wendi Friesen’s 1988 Hypnotic Breast Enhancement, BrianPhillips 2001 Hypnobreasts: Hypnotic Language and Guided Imagery for Breasts and Body Image and, Gerry Kein’s 2003 Hypnotic Enhancement of Breasts) and various academic conference papers (such as those by British neurologist Dr. Roy Beran who claimed his research showed breast volume doubling following a 3-month hypnosis program). However, none of these sources have not been peer reviewed and are light on methodological detail, and as such it is almost impossible to evaluate the veracity of their claims. Additionally, a 1983 paper by Australian psychologist and hypnotherapist Dr. Luis Rocella published in Rivista Internazionale di Psicologia e Ipnosi, described his own experiences of treating women wanting enlargement of their breasts via hypnosis. Although success was claimed, there was little methodological detail.
I’ve failed to locate any recently published studies. A recent 2008 review on hypnosis and mind-body interactions by Dr. Grant Benham and Dr. Jarred Younger in The Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis concluded that these “early studies uniformly support the use of hypnosis for breast growth”. However, they did note a number of caveats to the reported findings. Their main concerns were that the few published studies (i) varied in scientific rigour, and (ii) tended not use a control group to assess naturally occurring increases or fluctuations of breast size over time. I would also add that all the studies comprise extremely small sample sizes (in fact I would argue that some of these studies are essentially case studies). They ended their section on breast enlargement by hypnosis by saying:
“The topic does not seem to have been revisited in recent years, although it is unknown whether that phenomenon is related more to the lack of scientific interest, or a changing political and social climate. If further research in this field was to be conducted, it would be important to assess cardiovascular and endocrine components (such as progesterone and estrogen)”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Barber, T.X. (1984). Changing ‘unchangeable’ bodily processes by (hypnotic) suggestions: A new look at hypnosis, cognitions, imagining, and the mind-body problem. In A.A. Sheikh (Ed.), Imagination and Healing (pp. 69-128). Farmingdale, NY: Baywood Publishing Company.
Benham, G. & Younger, J. (2008). Hypnosis and mind-body interactions In M. Nash & A. Barnier (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis (pp. 393-435). Oxford; Oxford University Press.
Erickson, M.H. (1960). Breast development possibly influenced by hypnosis: Two instances and the psychotherapeutic results. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 2, 157-159.
Friesen, W. (1988). Hypnotic Breast Enhancement. Located at: http://www.wendi.com/
Honoites, G.J. (1977). Hypnosis and breast enlargement: A pilot study. Journal of theInternational Society for Professional Hypnosis, 6 (4), 8-12.
LeCron, M.L. (1969). Breast development through hypnotic suggestions. Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine, 16, 58-61.
Phillips, B.D. (2005). Hypnosis and breast enlargement. December 5. Located at: http://briandavidphillips.net/2005/12/05/hypnosis-and-breast-enhancement/
Roccella, L. (1983). The development and enlargement of the breasts by hypnosis. Rivista Internazionale di Psicologia e Ipnosi, 24, 345-350.
Staib, A.R. & D.R. Logan (1977). Hypnotic Stimulation of Breast Growth. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 19, 201-208.
Willard, R.D. (1977). Breast enlargement through visual imagery and hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 19, 195-200.
Williams, J.E. (1974). Stimulation of breast growth by hypnosis. Journal of Sex Research, 10, 316-326.
Williams, J.E. (1979). Physiology of induced breast growth, Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine, 26(3), 93-105.
Wilson, D.L. (1979). Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Mind Power. Larkspur, California: Total Mind Power Institute.
Back in 1986 when I was still an undergraduate psychology student, an optional part of our degree allowed some of us to attend a training course on hypnosis. As a consequence of taking the course, I became very interested in the clinical applications of hypnosis and (along with one of my fellow students Cheryl Gillett, and our supervisor Dr. Peter Davies) carried out some research using hypnosis and aversive classical conditioning techniques. Our undergraduate work was eventually published in a number of scientific journals back in the late 1980s and although I stopped researching in the area I never lost my academic interest in all things hypnotic.
Given my personal interest in both hypnosis and sexual paraphilias, today’s blog briefly examines the relationship between hypnosis and sexual behaviour, and more specifically hypnophilia and hypnofetishism. According to a short article on hypnofetishism at the Health Explores website, seduction through mind control (i.e., erotic hypnosis) has a long history in Western culture dating back to the sirens in Greek mythology who are portrayed in Homer’s Odyssey as having a “bewitching” song that lured sailors to their deaths. The article also claimed that Middle Ages witches had a “hypnotic aspect” to their sexuality. Despite the long history, the hypnotic aspects of sex have not been widely researched.
In collating material for this article, I came across a number of references to hypnophilia although most references to it are more concerned with sleep rather than hypnosis. For instance, Dr. Anil Aggrawal (in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) defines hypnophilia as being sexually aroused by the thought of sleeping (which for me suggests the condition is more akin to somnophilia which I wrote about in a previous blog). More recent online sources such as the Write World website define hypnophilia as an ”abnormal affection towards sleep or of being hypnotized”. Peter Masters, author of the book Look Into My Eyes: How to Use Hypnosis to Bring Out the Best In Your Sex Life defines hypnofetishism as “the use of hypnosis or images of hypnosis, to cause or increase sexual arousal”. Lady Izabelle, arguably the most infamous ‘hypnodomme’ (a BDSM dominatrix specializing in hypnotic sex play) and a practitioner of sexual hypnofetishism has written a number of online articles about the practice of hypnofetishism. She claims that:
“On its own, the hypnofetish involves the use of hypnosis for an erotic thrill, that only a fetish can bring. This should not be confused with hypnotic submission, which is the BDSM or [dominance and submission] version of hypnofetish…A hypnofetishist can be intensely aroused by watching someone be hypnotized, acting as a hypnotist, or as a hypnotic subject. Some hypnofetishists are interested in erotic hypnosis, in which post hypnotic suggestions of a sexual nature are given to the subject, but no explicit sexual content is necessary in hypnofetishism”.
When it comes to sex and hypnosis, there are other areas of interest outside of paraphilias and fetishes. For instance, Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices has a whole section on sex and hypnosis that does not mention either fetishes or paraphilias. Her entry concentrated on the use of hypnosis for improving sexual health and the treatment of sexual problems, and the use of hypnosis as a seduction technique (of which some is non-consensual and would be classed as a sexual assault). She noted that:
“There are historical records of cases where hypnotists were able to use hypnotic suggestions to facilitate intercourse. [Dr. Magnus] Hirschfield was consulted during a trial where an impotent husband filed sexual assault charges against a wife’s physician. The doctor confessed that he’d ordered her to ‘raise her skirt, lie down, spread her legs, take out his penis, introduce it into her vagina, then, during the act, perform parallel movements until mutual orgasm occurred’. Suspicion was aroused when she became pregnant and a detective was hired by the husband, who confirmed his fears”.
Dr. Love also makes reference to the fact that hypnosis has occasionally been used in the treatment of sexual problems and dysfunctions. One paper that Dr. Love makes heavy reference to is a 1989 paper by Dr. Douglas Ringrose in the British Journal of Sexual Medicine. In this paper, a young adult male sought treatment for his overwhelming sexual attraction to his mother-in-law. Dr. Ringrose used hypnosis and an aversive conditioning technique to pair thoughts of his mother in law with both an aversive smell (ammonia) and an aversive taste (castor oil). The treatment was said to be successful as following treatment as the man no longer had sexual feelings toward his mother-in-law. I tried to track this paper down (particularly because my own research career began with my work on aversive conditioning) but it doesn’t appear in any academic databases and the journal’s website only has papers dating back to 2002 (even though the journal was founded in 1973). Therefore, I can only go on Dr. Love’s reading of the paper and the fact that I have no methodological details of the therapy utilized.
There are countless claims that erotic hypnosis can include suggestions intended to improve overall sexual health. Various online sources claim that hypnosis can be utilized to help enhance sexual libido, increase confidence around sex, reduce sexual inhibitions, overcome apprehension about sex, enhance sensuality, enhance sexual role-play, and even increase breast size (for instance, check out the Contouring and To Sleep websites. Dr. Love – citing from a 1963 book called Perverse Crimes in History (by Robert Masters) – also claimed that:
“People who experience sexual phobias (impotence or frigidity) have sometimes been successfully hypnotized to overcome this fear and thus experience orgasms. Others have used autohypnotic suggestions to induce orgasms for themselves. Cases are mentioned in the annals of hypnosis that describe hypnotist-induced hallucinations that are visual, auditory, and tactile. These hallucinations are said to said to be of seductive women who sing, dance, and provide tactile stimulation needed for orgasm”.
A Wikipedia article on recreational hypnosis (which it claims is just another name for ‘erotic hypnosis’) notes that hypnosis for sexually recreational activities are utilized mostly in sexual sadism and sexual masochism practices. More specifically (but without any supporting evidence), the article claims that:
“The placement of trigger words in the subject’s mind as post-hypnotic suggestion to produce actions and experiences on-demand is a common practice…Hypnosis can be used within a dominance and submission relationship to reinforce power exchange and as a form of play. This ranges from hypnotically-induced orgasms to long-term conditioning. The act of hypnosis itself is erotic and relationship-affirming for many power exchange couples as the subject surrenders control and opens themselves to mental vulnerability…People who identify with the submissive side of erotic hypnosis often fantasize about being freed from responsibilities or inhibitions and transformed into someone who can freely enjoy sexual pleasures. Such sexually submissive personae include the slave, female stereotypes like the bimbo, slut, stripper and fictional characters from popular media”.
Hypnofetishism certainly appears to have a small but significant following online as there are lots of bespoke online sites containing hypnofetish (and hypnotic dominance and submission) stories (both fictional and autobiographical that sometimes include elements of telepathy and subliminal messaging), and hypnofetish images, photographs, and videos, as well as various discussion groups and forums (for instance, check out the Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive).
Peter Masters (author of Look Into My Eyes, and self-proclaimed expert on hypnofetishism) notes on his website that:
“The preparation for a hypnosis-based sex escapade is usually arousing initially through the fetish aspect, and then once the hypnotist has guided his or her partner into a trance, both can gain the benefits from the enhanced and stronger sexual experience of the hypnotised subject…The use of a shiny pendant, a pocket watch on a chain, or a ticking wooden metronome as the object of focus for doing the hypnosis can add significantly to the excitement and anticipation”.
Masters also makes some interesting observations in relation to the “strict, dictionary definition of fetish” and erotic hypnosis. As I noted in a previous blog on sexual fetishism, fetishes are typically body parts (e.g., feet, hair, noses, etc.), inanimate objects (e.g., shoes, masks, etc.), or conditions (e.g., obesity, pregnancy, etc.) that in and of themselves have a non-sexual focus. Masters noted that “hypnosis appears to be completely non-sexual” but then cites work by Dr. Craig Hill and Dr. Leslie Preston published in a 1996 issue of the Journal of Sexual Research showing that:
“Over 20% of young adults look at sex as being an opportunity to experience the power of their partner, and over 20% look at sex as an opportunity to exert power over their partner. Clearly hypnosis is one way they can experience this power because hypnosis is explicitly one person taking control of another and using that control”.
One thing I know about hypnosis from my own research over 25 years ago is that among humans there is a wide range of hypnotic susceptibility. Hypnofetishism is always likely to be a minority sexual interest because the degree to which people can be hypnotized depends on many factors including (i) the confidence and trust that someone has in letting someone else hypnotize them, (ii) the general fears people have about being hypnotized in any capacity, (iii) the level of previous experience someone has of being hypnotized, and (iv) the level of experience of the hypnotist. (I, for one, have never been able to be hypnotized by anyone).
There are also many ethical questions. For instance, Dr. Don Gibbons in a short article on hypnophilia (on his Hypnothoughts blog) wondered to what extent hypnophilia occurred amongst professional hyphotherapists and how many in the profession are sexually obsessed with the use of hypnosis and use their skill as an instrument of serial seduction? As yet, we simply don’t know, but as highlighted in Dr. Magnus Hirschfield’s case study above, it certainly appears to have occurred. There are also ethical questions concerning informed sexual consent. Just because someone allows another to perform hypnosis on them, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are fully consenting to sexual acts engaged in while in a hypnotic trance.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Gibbons, D. (2011). Does hypnophilia exist? October 13. Located at: http://www.hypnothoughts.com/forum/topics/does-hypnophilia-exist
Gibbons, D. (2011). Hypnosis, seduction and hypnophilia. October 28. Located at: http://hyperempiria.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/hypnosis-seduction-and-hypnophilia.html
Gillett, C.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Davies, P. (1989). The hypnotic suppression of conditioned electrodermal responses. In D. Waxman, D. Pederson, I. Wilkie & P. Mellett (Eds.). Hypnosis (pp.60-66). London: Whurr Publishers.
Griffiths, M.D., Gillett, C.A. & Davies, P. (1989). The hypnotic suppression of conditioned electrodermal responses. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 69, 186.
Griffiths, M.D., Gillett, C.A. & Davies, P. (1989). An experimental investigation of ideational and exteroceptive conditioning. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 69, 494.
Health Explores (2011). Hypnofetishism. Located at: http://www.healthexplores.com/wiki/hypnofetishism
Hill, C.A. & Preston, L.K. (1996). Individual differences in the experience of sexual motivation: Theory and measurements of dispositional sexual motives. Journal of Sex Research, 33, 27-45.
Hirschfeld, M. (1948). Sexual Anomalies and Perversions. New York: Emerson.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
James, W.E. (1974). Stimulation of breast growth by hypnosis. Journal of Sex Research, 10, 316-326.
Lady Izabelle (undated). Hypnofetishism and erotic hypnosis. Located at: http://erotichypnosis.ladyizzabelle.com/
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Masters, P. (2001). Look Into My Eyes: How to Use Hypnosis to Bring Out the Best In Your Sex Life. Eugene, Oregon: Greenery Press.
Masters, P. (2011). Look Into My Eyes. May 6. Located at: http://www.peter-masters.com/hypno/index.php/Hypno_fetish
Wikipedia (2012). Recreational hypnosis. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recreational_hypnosis