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Abstract Complex moving visual stimuli are used to induce states of relaxation, hypnosis and revery. To test the efficacy of using aquarium contemplation to induce relaxation, 42 patients were randomly assigned to one of five treatments prior to elective oral surgery: 1) contemplation of an aquarium, 2) contemplation of a poster, 3) poster contemplation with hypnotic induction, 4) aquarium contemplation with hypnosis, and 5), a non intervention control. Blood pressure, heart rate, and subjective and objective measures of anxiety were used as dependent measures. Pretreatment with aquarium contemplation and hypnosis, either alone or in combination, produced significantly greater degrees of relaxation during surgery than poster contemplation or the control procedure. Two-way analysis of variance demonstrated that a formal hypnotic induction did not augment the relaxation produced by aquarium contemplation.