The Myth Of Memories “unlocked” By Hypnosis

A few years ago, several countries saw how people who had been sentenced to prison terms were released after being identified by witnesses who, oddly enough, swore and perjured that they had seen the crime being committed and who had carried it out. In these cases, the common ingredient was the following: the witnesses had identified the culprits after having gone through hypnosis sessions.

Although Hypnosis is a tool that has shown effectiveness When it comes to treating certain psychological and health problems, its poor practice has caused some people to suffer greatly for years. The reason for this has to do with a myth: that a hypnotist can cause the patient’s memories to be “released”, revealing facts that seemed forgotten. How do we know that this does not correspond to reality? You can read it below.

    Memories and the unconscious

    The functioning of memory is one of the most fascinating fields of research in Psychology and cognitive sciences in general, but unfortunately there are still many myths about it. For example, the belief that through hypnosis it is possible to rescue memories from oblivion that had been “blocked” by the unconscious is still very popular, and no less erroneous, although with certain nuances.

    First of all, it must be clear that for a long time the practice of hypnosis has been linked to Freudian psychoanalysis and his ideas about the unconscious (although its practice predates the appearance of this. From this perspective, there are certain components of the mind who conspire so that, no matter what happens, certain memories are “erased” from consciousness and cannot return to it, since its content is so disturbing or anxiety-inducing that it could generate crises.

    Thus, the task of the hypnotists would be open certain vulnerabilities in the psychological barrier that covers the unconscious part of the mind to make those repressed memories emerge to consciousness and can be reformulated.

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    This approach to the unconscious facet of the human mind fails in many ways, and one of the main reasons for discarding it is that, in practice, it explains nothing. Any hypothesis about the type of memories a person is repressing is validated by their denial; There is simply no way to prove that it is false and that it does not reflect what is really happening.

    If someone very insistently denies having witnessed a beating, for example, any significant nuance in their way of denying it can be interpreted as evidence that there is an internal struggle in their psyche to continue blocking the memories linked to that experience.

    On the other hand, it is known that most people who have suffered traumatic moments such as the effects of a natural disaster or the Holocaust remember what happened; there is nothing similar to a phenomenon of repression. How do you explain then that some people believe they have recovered parts of their memory after being hypnotized? The explanation for this It has to do with the unconscious mind, but not with the psychoanalytic conception of this.

    Memory is something dynamic

    As occurs in any field of science, the best explanations for a phenomenon are those that, being as simple as possible, best explain what is observed in nature; This is what is known as the principle of parsimony. For example, when faced with the appearance of a plague of locusts, an explanation based on recent meteorological changes will be parsimonious, while one that attributes the event to a curse will not. In the first case there are few outstanding questions, while in the second a single question is resolved and an infinite number of explanatory gaps are generated.

    When it comes to memories that are apparently thrown into consciousness, the simplest explanation is that they are basically made up, as psychologist Elizabeth Loftus discovered several decades ago. But invented involuntarily and unconsciously. There is an explanation for how and why this happens.

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    The currently most accepted theory about how memory works does not describe this cognitive ability as a process of what would technically be storage of information, but as something very different: leaving a mark in the way in which neurons in certain parts of the brain function. brain “learn” to activate in a coordinated manner.

    If upon seeing a cat for the first time a network of nervous cells is activated, when evoking that memory a good part of those cells will be activated again, although not all, and not in exactly the same way, since the state of the nervous system in That moment will not be the same as the one that was present when seeing the cat: other experiences will also have left their marks on the brain, and all of them will partially overlap each other. To these changes we must add the biological evolution of the brain as it matures over time.

    So even if we don’t do anything, our memories never stay the same, although it may seem that way to us. They change slightly over time because there is no piece of information that remains intact in the brain, any memory is affected by what happens to us in the present. And, in the same way that it is normal for memories to change, it is also possible to generate false memories without realizing it, mixing evaluations of the past with those of the present. In the case of hypnosis, the tool to achieve this effect is suggestion.

      How to “release” memories through hypnosis

      Let’s look at an example of generating false memories.

      In this tradition of psychoanalytic influence, hypnosis is very common. resort to something called “regression” and which is, more or less, the process of reliving past experiences in a very intense way, as if traveling to the past to observe again what happened at certain moments. The goal of causing a regression is usually to re-experience certain moments in childhood in which the thought structures characteristic of adulthood have not yet taken hold.

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      In practice, the role of the person versed in hypnosis is to create a climate in which the patient is in a position to believe in the authenticity of all experiences that can be seen as regression in process. If in the context of hypnosis sessions someone talks about the possibility that the problem is due to certain types of traumatic experiences that have been “blocked”, it is very likely that simply imagining an experience similar to that will be confused. with a memory

      Once this has happened, it is very easy for more and more details to spontaneously appear about that supposed experience that is “emerging.” As this occurs, the molecular traces that this experience leaves in the brain (and that will make it possible for a similar version of that memory to be evoked later) They become fixed in the neuronal tissue not as moments of fantasy, but as if they were memories. The result is a person convinced that what they have seen, heard and touched is a true representation of what happened to them long ago.

        Caution in sessions with a hypnotist

        These types of practices are capable of resulting in cases that in themselves are proof against the power of hypnosis to bring up forgotten memories, such as patients who believe they remember what happened to them in their zygote stage when they were not yet their nervous system had appeared, or people who remember events that are known not to have occurred.

        These are problems that appear when not knowing how to manage the suggestive power of this therapeutic resource and that, with what we know about the flexibility of memory, can be prevented.