Hypnosis obtained by staring at a pencil, 1881.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Illustration by Gilbert, taken from 'La Nature' (Paris, 1881), edited by Gaston Tisandier, captioned 'Hypnotisme produit par la fixation d'un porte-crayon place entre les yeux.' Although hypnosis has been used since ancient times, it was the work of the Austrian doctor Franz Anton Mesmer in the 1770s which led to attempts to develop and understand the technique scientifically. Since then the use of hypnotism in medicine has gradually gained mainstream acceptance, although the basis of hypnosis and how and why it works remains poorly understood. It was widely used by doctors in both World Wars to treat psychological disorders suffered by soldiers as a result of their experiences in battle.