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James Braid (1795-1860) was a Scottish surgeon credited with the field of Hypnotism. He first became interested in Mesmerism after observing Lafontaine in 1841. He began writing on his findings and published them in Neurypnology; or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep (1843).

In this book, he outlines that behaviours such as convulsions, increased sensory acuity, intellectual enhancement, and spontaneous amnesia were inter-correlated because of intrinsic changes in the nervous system that occurred when the patient entered "magnetic or hypnotic sleep". He rejected theories about ‘mesmeric fluid’ stating:

“Anyone can hypnotise himself by attending strictly to the simple rules that I lay down”.[1]

Braid’s theory was the earliest of this type, but he revised it as he became increasingly aware of the role played by the hypnotist's expectations in guiding the subject's behaviour. He developed the notion of monoideism: the hypothesis that the subject's behaviour was a function of the specific idea dominating the mind at the time and that the dominant idea resulted from cues provided by the hypnotist.[2]

During his life, Braid faced criticism from mesmerists and members of the medical profession. He was excluded from the Zoist and met with hostility by Elliotson. Attitudes in the medical profession gradually improved as his phenomena were shown to need requisite proof.

However, his influence is felt far more after his death.  Although mesmerism and his hypnotism began to lose public focus after 1860, it began to gain traction in France. Historians have shown that Braid certainly inspired Jean-Marie Charcot (the so called founder of modern neurology) and helped inspire the foundation of the Nancy School, the central location for the study of hypnosis.


[1]Alan Gauld, A History of Hypnotism, p281

[2]Nicholas P. Spanos and Jack Gottlieb, Demonic Possession, Mesmerism, and Hysteria: A Social Psychological Perspective on Their Historical Interrelations

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