4 Things About Ideomotor Responses Your Hypnosis Instructor Probably Didn’t Tell You

ideomotor responsesAs Director of Education for the International Hypnosis Association, I’m responsible for answering many of the hypnosis questions that come in from professionals — including the questions about ideomotor responses. Here’s a good question from Dave.


Sometimes I don’t get any ideomotor response when asking the subconscious to take control of a finger and move it to answer yes. I keep asking for a time but still no movement. So then I choose a finger myself and show the subconscious what I would like by moving it, but after some encouragement, no movement whatsoever. Sometimes this happens with people that I have great response with, with other techniques such as parts integration in other sessions.

Because I like to work with this type of technique with ideomotor finger signals I would really like to broaden my understanding of why sometimes it doesn’t work and what I can do when it doesn’t work. (mostly I just go ahead with an extra deepener and direct suggestion)

Have you got any advice about this or can you point me in the right direction to any resources? Any thoughts would be great 🙂


Hi Dave,
Great question. I’m going to answer it in a few different ways as there are several useful approaches in these situations.

What Are Ideomotor Responses?

For those of you who don’t know, ideomotor responses are where you ask a person’s subconscious mind (or unconscious mind, depending on the terminology you use) to answer a question by moving a part of the body. Traditionally, hypnotists use a finger.

So, you ask the client to pick a finger for “yes” and another for “no.” Then you might ask the client various questions and have their mind answer the questions by moving the appropriate finger. You can ask if they know the cause of the problem, if the unconscious is willing to put new behavior into place etc. There’s lots you can do.

Take Your Time

The #1 mistake people make when utilizing this technique is that they don’t wait long enough for a response. Especially at first, the hypnotized person is just now learning how to do this. Don’t be afraid to wait for a full minute for a response. Keep encouraging them. Even if there’s a tiny movement, say “that’s right” and tell them to make it easier for you to see.

Amplify Any Positive Response

Typically, when a person’s hand is on their thigh, there’s a little movement of the hand, every time they breathe. Amplify that by giving them positive feedback every time it happens.

Be Congruent

It’s also a good idea to make sure your voice matches what you want them to do. I like to use the word “twitch” when I’m doing finger ideomotor responses. And when I do, I make sure the word sounds “twitchy.”

Now, all those are ways to make ideomotor responses easier to elicit. But that’s not the only thing you can do. If you had a hypnosis instructor who taught ideomotor and was at all decent, he or she probably told you all these things. Let’s go beyond that.

1) Use Metaphor & Hypnotic Language

Another thing you can do is use metaphor to amplify the possibility of a response. You can suggest that one of their fingers twitch as if a fly landed on it. You can use any metaphor that has an aspect of involuntary movement. Erickson used to talk about how, when you’re in the passenger seat of a car, you sometimes press down on the floorboard as if there’s a brake there! When you feed a baby, you can’t help but make motions with your mouth to show the baby what to do. As I’m working on this response, I’m drinking some tea. I sometimes reach for the tea without even thinking about it. It’s an unconscious, automatic movement. That’s what we want to elicit in the client.

You can relate those things to your client as a way to explain what you want them to do.

Ask them to be curious about which finger is going to move (presupposition) and embed suggestions.

2) You Use A Symptom Rather Than A Finger

When people’s fingers move and they didn’t move them consciously, it’s a good convincer that something unusual is going on. Keep in mind that producing any involuntary response may work just as well for that. Personally, I like to use ideosensory responses (as opposed to ideomotor responses) — especially when I’m working with physical issues.

Ideosensory responses are when a client experiences a sensation rather than moving. As an example, I once worked with a guy who had back pain. I asked his back pain to answer questions by getting stronger to answer “yes” and weaker to answer “no”. When I asked his back pain if it was willing to communicate with us, a significant increase in pain level was a powerful convincer for him. And, we were sure we were working with the part of the mind that had some control over the back pain.

And that’s the second reason I sometimes use a symptom as an involuntary responses. That way, you can be more sure that you’re working with the part of the mind you need to work with. If you can get a smoker to get her desire for a cigarette to appear and disappear, you’re very likely on the right track 🙂

The disadvantage to ideosensory responses is that you may not be able to easily see that the client is responding (although if you’ve got them calibrated, you usually can).

3) Any Involuntary Response Will Work

Along the same lines as using symptoms as responses, remember there’s nothing magical about using a finger as an ideomotor response. I once tried to have a guy’s arm float up involuntarily and his arm didn’t move at all that I could see. When I emerged him from hypnosis, it turns out he thought his arm was floating. He hallucinated (typically considered a deep hypnotic phenomena) better that he could generate involuntary movement (generally considered a less impressive hypnotic phenomena).

In other words, different people are going to be better at different things. You can use anything that seems to happen to the client rather than the client actively doing it. That includes having an image or word come to the client’s mind.

4) If You’re Doing Parts Work (the kind where their hands are moving toward each other) You’re Already Doing Ideomotor

Ideomotor responses mean a movement that’s not directly generated by conscious thought. When you think, “I’m going to pick up my keys” and then you pick them up, that’s conscious. If you think about one of your fingers twitching, you wonder which one it might be and one twitches and surprises you, that’s ideomotor. When you do the kind of parts work where the hands are suspended in front of you and as they get congruent, start to float toward one another without you consciously doing it — that’s ideomotor movement. If you’re not doing that kind of parts work, you’re missing out — check out this program on parts.

Finally, I think it’s important to point out that people have differing levels of skill in producing hypnotic phenomena. Some are going to be better than others in doing finger movements. Some will take longer to produce them and others will do it too easily. Don’t sweat it 🙂


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Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997. Read More....

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