Hypnosis and Photographic Memory.

September 22nd, 2011

Hypnotherapists see themselves essentially as problem solvers or issue resolvers. This is understandable. Potential clients seek hypnotherapy in order to help them with some problem or issue, such as smoking cessation, weight control, stress, confidence, and so on. Hypnotherapists very often come to view hypnosis as a tool, or method, by which problems are resolved. A typical practitioner will find some method of hypnotic induction – either by modifying one of the traditional taught methods, researching some of the more idiosyncratic Ericksonian techniques or, if they are really adventurous, devising some unique method, or methods, of their own – and will usually stick to that preferred method through thick and thin, employing it in most if not all cases.

But the relationship between the practitioner and his or her preferred method of induction can become rather stale. The very act of hypnotic induction can become rather repetitive, boring, or even arduous. Hypnotherapists will often turn to methods drawn from other branches of psychotherapy, such as CBT, Gestalt, Transactional Analysis etc, not necessarily because such methods are more effective but because the implementation of such methods tends to involve a dialogue, the active participation of the client, rather than the lengthy recital of an induction protocol to a relaxing, and usually thoroughly passive, client.

If hypnotherapy is to progress and develop then this needs to change. Perhaps the various training establishments have a role to play here. Most training colleges offer CPD course of one kind of another, but is seems to me that many of those supplementary courses are steered towards practices and techniques which, strictly speaking, lay outside of the field of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. What is so easily overlooked is the fact that the potential of hypnosis and hypnotherapy has only really begun to be explored. So far we have only really scratched the surface.

This was forcibly brought home to me recently when I came across an article in the American Journal of Psychology (vol. 99 no. 4, Winter 1986). In this paper, Helen J. Crawford et al described a series of experiments to determine whether and to what extent eidetic imagery could be produced under hypnosis. The findings are interesting, to say the least, and they highlight just how little is known about the power and potential of hypnosis. Who would have thought that hypnosis could produce the phenomenon of “photographic memory” in certain subjects? And if hypnosis can do that, what else can it do?

The article in question is readily available (at least for jstor subscribers or for those who can access jstor through university or college libraries), and the reference is given below. All I offer here is a summary. The following summary contains no direct quotations from the original text.

The broad aim of the experiments described is simply to discover whether and to what extent eidetic imagery (otherwise known as photographic memory) can be induced in a hypnotized subject. For these experiments, dot stereograms were used. These are two random-looking dot images, but if these images are superimposed they create a simple, intelligible figure (a square, a triangle etc) which is not present in either of the single parts of the stereogram. The subject uses photographic memory to superimpose the one image on the other and thereby discover the image which results from the superimposition.

Experiment 1. A large group of psychology students were tested for hypnotisability using the Stanford Susceptibility Scale. 24 high scoring, and therefore highly hypnotizable, students were selected for the experiment (10 men and 14 women).

This group of people were shown 4 dot stereograms, eight images in all. Each pair of images, when superimposed one upon the other, created a figure not present in the individual dot images. The group were shown these 4 pairs under three different conditions i. fully awake, ii. under “normal” hypnosis and iii, under age-regression hypnosis.

Six out of these 24 (25%) were able to superimpose the individual dot images of a given pair and correctly to identify the resulting figure, either in “normal” hypnosis or in age-regression hypnosis. None were able to do so in full waking consciousness. Only 2 of these 6 claimed to have photographic memory during childhood. This would suggest that the creation of photographic memory under hypnosis is not simply due to age regression.

Experiment 2. Using the Stanford Scale, 29 highly hypnotizable people and 20 low hypnotizable people were selected to participate. All those chosen claimed to have photographic memory as children. The stereogram images were presented one to each eye. None of the 20 “lows” were able to perceive the superimposed stereogram images correctly. Of the “highs”, only 3 were able to superimpose the images correctly under either “normal” or age regression hypnosis. None were able to do so under waking conditions.

Experiment 3. Again, using the Stanford Scale, 23 high-hypnotizable and 17 low-hypnotizable people were chosen to participate. Timed exposure to the stereograms were presented to each eye using a tachistoscope. None of the 17 “lows” were able to perceived the correct shape by superimposing the images – though they did perceive shapes such as faces, images, objects etc as a result of the attempt at superimposition. Of the highs, 6 (26%) were able to perceive the superimposed images correctly. One of these was able to do so in age-regression only, two were able to do so under “normal” hypnosis only, one was able to do so under both hypnotic conditions, and one was able to do so under both hypnotic conditions and fully awake.

The conclusions reached by the researches are that eidetic imagery can be produced under hypnosis, provided that the subjects are highly hypnotizable, and that this production is not necessarily a recovery of an earlier or lost ability through age regression.

I fully accept these conclusions. But for an experienced practicing hypnotherapist these type of experiments raise a whole host of further questions, such as:

· Is the Stanford Scale really a 100% reliable test of hypnotisability?
· Is it possible to alter or enhance the “innate” susceptibility of a given subject by using hypnosis or hypnotic suggestion?
· Who performed the hypnotic induction for these experiments? How experienced or capable was he or she?
· What degree of trance depth was the experimental hypnotist aiming at?
· What sort of age-regression technique was employed – free or formal?
· Can we trust such randomly selected participants to know for certain whether they were capable of photographic memory as children.

These, and many other questions, occurred to me as I read the paper through. But, as the researchers themselves say, there is a great deal more work to be done in this area alone. And this is only one further small step in the discovery of what hypnosis is really capable of.

Scientists, researchers and, of course, practitioners desperately need to reclaim hypnosis from the tiresome showmen – the Paul Mackennas and the Derren Browns of this world – and start fully to explore the power of this strange but natural phenomenon. This voyage of discovery doesn’t require laboratories or expensive equipment. All it requires is a thorough understanding of technique, an enquiring mind – and a bit of imagination.

Crawford, H. J., Wallace, B., Nomura, K., Slater, H. (1986) Eidetic-like imagery in hypnosis: Rare but there, American Journal of Psychology vol. 99 no. 4, Winter 1986, pp 527 – 546.

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One Response to “Hypnosis and Photographic Memory.”

  1. Neil Hall Says:

    You’re welcome!

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