The Spiegel Eye Roll Test: How Valid Is It Really?

Imagine a tool that can offer insight into the enigmatic depths of the human mind, particularly its susceptibility to hypnosis. Hypnosis has long been a subject of fascination, often shrouded in mystery and misconceptions. From its early historical roots to its modern clinical applications, the study of hypnosis has evolved dramatically. Yet, one of the enduring questions in this field is how to determine who can be effectively hypnotized. This is where the Spiegel Eye Roll Test comes into play.

The test serves as a quick and straightforward means to assess an individual’s capacity for entering a hypnotic state. Developed with both clinical and research applications in mind, it has become a standard measure for evaluating hypnotic susceptibility. This article aims to offer a comprehensive understanding of the Spiegel Eye Roll Test—its history, procedure, psychological underpinnings, applications, criticisms, and future directions.

Whether you’re a clinician interested in the therapeutic applications of hypnosis, a researcher exploring the intricacies of the human mind, or simply a curious individual, this guide is designed to enlighten and inform.

Historical Context

The quest to understand and harness the power of hypnosis dates back centuries, with various methods and theories emerging over time. Initially, hypnosis was often viewed through a mystical or supernatural lens, but as scientific inquiry advanced, so did the understanding of this psychological phenomenon. If you want to learn hypnosis, knowing the Spiegel Eye Roll Test is crucial.

A. Early Methods of Hypnotic Susceptibility Testing

In the early days, practitioners relied on subjective observations and imprecise methods to gauge an individual’s responsiveness to hypnosis. These ranged from pendulum tests to verbal suggestions, but they lacked standardization and empirical validation.

B. Development and Introduction of the Spiegel Eye Roll Test

Recognizing the need for a more reliable and standardized method, the Spiegel Eye Roll Test was developed by Dr. Herbert Spiegel. Unlike its predecessors, this test sought to bring a level of empirical rigor to the field. It was designed to be simple, quick, and easily administered, making it practical for both clinical and research settings.

C. Comparison with Other Methods

There are other measures of hypnotic susceptibility, such as the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, which are more elaborate and time-consuming. However, the Spiegel Eye Roll Test has gained popularity due to its ease of use and quick administration. It serves as a valuable tool for initial screenings, saving both time and resources.

Procedure of the Spiegel Eye Roll Test

Understanding the procedure of the test is crucial for its effective administration and interpretation. The Spiegel Eye Roll Test is designed to be straightforward, yet its simplicity belies the complexity of the psychological mechanisms it taps into.

A. Preliminary Steps

  • Informed Consent: Before administering the test, it is essential to obtain informed consent from the participant. This ensures ethical compliance and participant comfort.
  • Setting and Environment: The test should be conducted in a quiet and comfortable setting to minimize distractions and maximize focus.

B. Execution of the Test

  • Verbal Instructions: The participant is given specific verbal instructions to tilt their head back slightly and roll their eyes upward.
  • Physical Execution: The participant then performs the eye roll as instructed. The administrator observes and assesses the extent of the eye roll.

C. Scoring Criteria

  • Scale of 1-5: The eye roll is scored on a scale from 1 to 5, based on the visibility of the white area of the eyes.
  • Interpretation of Scores: Higher scores generally indicate greater hypnotic susceptibility, although it’s important to note that this is not an absolute measure but a relative one.

Psychological Mechanisms

While the Spiegel Eye Roll Test is a simple procedure, the psychological processes it taps into are far from elementary. Understanding these mechanisms can deepen our comprehension of hypnotic susceptibility and its implications.

A. The Role of the Unconscious Mind

The test provides a snapshot of how readily an individual is open to comply with hypnotic suggestions. While hypnosis is not solely a function of the unconscious, its ability to tap into these areas is significant for therapeutic and clinical applications.

B. Connection to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movements, as involved in the Spiegel Eye Roll Test, share similarities with therapeutic techniques like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Although not identical, understanding the role of eye movements in both can offer a more integrated view of their psychological functions.

C. Neurological Aspects

Research has suggested that the brain regions activated during the eye roll may be associated with the ability to enter a hypnotic state. While this area is still under exploration, it adds another layer of complexity to our understanding of hypnotic susceptibility.


The Spiegel Eye Roll Test is not merely an academic exercise; it has practical applications that extend into various realms of psychology and medicine. Its quick and straightforward nature makes it a versatile tool for different settings.

A. Clinical Settings

  • Pain Management: Knowing an individual’s hypnotic susceptibility can guide clinicians in the application of hypnotherapy for pain management.
  • Treating Anxiety and Phobias: The test can also be a precursor to therapeutic interventions for conditions like anxiety and specific phobias, where hypnosis has shown promise.

B. Research Purposes

  • Studies on Hypnosis Efficacy: Researchers can use the test as part of larger studies aimed at understanding the efficacy of hypnosis in various treatments.
  • Individual Differences in Hypnotic Susceptibility: It serves as a useful tool for exploring why hypnotic susceptibility varies among individuals, thereby enriching our understanding of the psychological mechanisms involved.

Criticisms and Limitations

No psychological measure is without its limitations, and the Spiegel Eye Roll Test is no exception. Acknowledging these criticisms allows for a more nuanced understanding and responsible application of the test.

A. Reliability and Validity Concerns

While the test is quick and easy to administer, questions have been raised about its reliability and validity. Some critics argue that the test may not be sensitive enough to capture the full range of hypnotic susceptibility.

I have come across individuals who struggled to enter the hypnotic state despite getting the full score, while I’ve worked with individuals who scored very low and yet were completely able to enter the hypnotic state.

View the Spiegel Eye Roll test as a simple test mechanism for a standardized clinical hypnotic induction technique, especially if you’re working in a research setting where the staff has not received any advanced training on hypnotic inductions, but be aware that a low score does not mean a person can’t actually be hypnotized.

B. Cultural and Individual Variability

The test’s simplicity might also be its downfall in capturing the nuances of cultural and individual differences in hypnotic susceptibility. For example, eye physiology and cultural norms around eye contact can vary, potentially affecting the test’s results.

C. Ethical Considerations

Given that the test provides an avenue into deeper psychological states, ethical considerations such as informed consent and privacy are paramount. These concerns are especially relevant when the test is applied in clinical settings.

Future Directions

The Spiegel Eye Roll Test, despite its limitations, has opened doors to intriguing possibilities and questions in the realm of hypnosis and psychology. As we look to the future, several areas stand ripe for exploration and improvement.

A. Technological Advances

With the advent of more sophisticated imaging technologies and data analytics, there are opportunities to refine the test and explore the neurological mechanisms in greater detail.

B. Integration with Other Psychological Assessments

There is potential for the Spiegel Eye Roll Test to be integrated with other psychological assessments, offering a more comprehensive view of an individual’s mental landscape.

C. Ongoing Research and Refinement

Future research can focus on addressing the limitations and criticisms to improve the test’s reliability and validity. This could include larger sample sizes, diverse populations, and rigorous experimental designs.


The Spiegel Eye Roll Test is still used as a tool in the study and application of hypnosis, offering a quick and repeatable standardized measure of hypnotic susceptibility. However, a low score does not mean that a person is not hypnotizable, nor does a high score necessarily mean that the person will easily enter a hypnotic trance state.


Spiegel, Herbert. “An eye-roll test for hypnotizability.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 53, no. 1 (2010): 15-18.

Frischholz, Edward J., and Lindsay E. Nichols. “A Historical Context for Understanding” An Eye Roll Test for Hypnotizability“.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 53, no. 1 (2010): 3.

Hilgard ER. Illusion That the Eye-Roll Sign Is Related to Hypnotizability. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1982;39(8):963–966. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1982.04290080069010

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