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­When you hear the word hypnosis, you may picture the mysterious hypnotist figure popularized in movies, comic books and television. This ominous, goateed man waves a pocket watch back and forth, guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombie-like state. Once hypnotized, the subject is compelled to obey, no matter how strange or immoral the request. Muttering "Yes, master," the subject does the hypnotist's evil bidding.

­This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their "masters" -- they have absolute free will. And they're not really in a semi-sleep state -- they're actually hyperattentive.

Our understanding of hypnosis has advanced a great deal in the past century, but the phenomenon is still a mystery of sorts. In this article, we'll look at some popular theories of hypnosis and explore the various ways hypnotists put their art to work.