Hypnosis and memory

The art and science of hypnosis is both from the past and present. Earlier it was practiced by healers, shamans, witchdoctors, sufi practioners and now by psychologist, psychiatrist, medical doctors, dentist, and others. As hypnosis began to receive serious study and could be explained rationally it began to gain acceptance. Though experts quibble over the exact definition of hypnosis, they agree that it involves intense concentration, increased relaxation, and heightened suggestibility.

Origins of Modern hypnosis:

The Australian physician Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) originated the phenomenon of hypnosis, which he called mesmerism and believed to be result of 'animal magnetism' or an invisible fluid passing between subject and mesmerizer. A Scottish physician, James Braid (1795 - 1860), first used the term hypnosis (from hypnos, the greek word for sleep) in the 1840s, to refer to what he thought was a specific state of sleep. In the late 19th century the French neurologist Jean- Martin Charcot (1825 -1893) considered hypnotism a special physiological state. His contemporary Hippolyte-Marie Bernheim (1840-1919) believed it to be a psychological state of heightened suggestibility.

Sigmund Freud, who had studied with Charcot, used hypnosis early in his career to help patients recover repressed memories. Freud noted that patients relieved traumatic events while under hypnosis, a process known as abreaction.

Today, hypnosis is used as a form of therapy, a method of investigation to recover lost memories and as a research tool. The aim of this research is to study the effects of hypnosis on memory.

Problem: Does hypnosis helps in recall of information? If so, how does it work? If not, why doesn't it work?

Purpose of the study:

Hypnosis is being used as a tool to recall information mainly in the following three areas.

  1. As a therapeutic tool, to recall past memories (Age Regression and Past Life Regression).
  2. As a memory aid, were hypnosis used with relaxation technique along with mnemonic strategies can easily help to recall information.
  3. Forensic field, were hypnosis is used to help witness recall the details of the crime scene. The crucial importance of independent verification has become clarified in recent years in the forensic context and the courts have taken facts into appropriate consideration (Giannelli, 1995). However, although this same capacity for memory distortion operates in the clinical context, clinicians often seem unaware of the problem.

Although there are not many scientific researches done in the above areas, especially in India to validate that hypnosis helps to enhance recall, the practice exists. Broadly, this research is taken up (a) To find out whether hypnosis helps in recall of information (b) To understand the mechanisms of how memory works during hypnosis (c) To identify what are the positive and the negative aspects of hypnosis when used to recall information. Hopefully, the findings of this research will help clinician use hypnosis as a tool to recall information more appropriately and effectively in their practice.


  • Does hypnosis help in recall of information?
  • Does hypnosis help to enhance recall as compared to waking state?
  • If it does, how does it work? From previous research finding it shows that hypnosis helps in recall of certain information such as meaningful phrases, sentences, paragraphs and words which evoke considerable imagery (Relinger, Helmut, 1984).
  • How to reduce or remove false memories? It is demonstrated that the mere subtle cueing of hypnotized subjects could produce profoundly believed-in but false memory (Laurence and Perry, 1988).

Hypnotizability: To determine whether the ability to be hypnotized has a role in the information recalled.

  • Do highly susceptible participants recall more information?
  • What is the accuracy of information recalled by highly susceptible participants?
  • Do participants with low susceptibility to hypnosis recall less information?
  • What is the accuracy of information recalled by low susceptible participants?

Suggestions: Suggestions have a significant role to play during the process of hypnosis. Focus in this research is to study the effects of suggestions in hypnotic and waking state to improve recall.

  • Do suggestions have an influence on the information to be recalled both in hypnotic and waking state? If so, to what extent.
  • What kind of suggestions helps in recall?
  • What effects does suggestion have on recall in hypnotic state?
  • What effects does suggestion have on recall in waking state?
  • What kind of suggestions helps in reducing or removing false memories? According to Loftus (1997) false memories are constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others.

Along with induction, suggestion and hypnosis procedure there is one important key component that has thus far gone unexamined. It is belief. It is said that without this component, successful hypnotic communication is impossible. In this study I am interested to know if people who believe in hypnosis are more susceptible to suggestions, which in turn has an influence on recall.


  • Barber, J (1997). 'Hypnosis and memory: A hazardous connection'. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Vol. 19 Issue 4, 305-313
  • Brenda Mc.Ewan (2006). Article 'Science finally tackles Hypnosis'. By Seed magazine, Seed Media Group LLC. http://seedmagazine.com
  • Gianneli, P (1995). 'The admissibility of hypnotic evidence in U.S. courts. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.
  • Hadley, J and Staudacher, C (1985). 'Hypnosis for change'. New Harbinger Publications.
  • Laurence, J.R., & Perry,C. (1988). 'Hypnosis, will & memory'. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Loftus, E. F (1997). 'Creating False memories'. Scientific American.
  • Relinger, Helmut (1984). 'Hypnotic Hypermnesia'. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis.
  • http://www.hypnosis.com/whatishypnosis_history.aspx
  • http://www.essortment.com/all/hypnosishistory_rcdg.htm
  • http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/e-books/Hypnosis-ebk.pdf

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