The myth of memories “unlocked” by hypnosis

Several years ago, several countries saw people sentenced to prison terms released after being identified by witnesses who, although it may appear false, swore and perjured to have seen the crime committed and who committed it. . In these cases, the common ingredient was this: Witnesses identified the culprits after going through hypnosis sessions.

Again hypnosis is a tool that has demonstrated its effectiveness faced with certain psychological and health problems, its poor practice has caused some people great suffering for years. The reason is linked to a myth: a hypnotist can make the patient’s memories “release”, reveal facts that seemed to have been forgotten. How do we know this is not true? You can read it below.

    Memories and the unconscious

    One of the most fascinating areas of research in psychology and cognitive science in general is how memory works, but unfortunately there are still many myths about it. For example, the belief that through hypnosis it is possible to save memories from oblivion which 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 its ideas about the unconscious (although its practice predates its emergence. This perspective, there is certain parts of the mind that conspire as well as, no matter what, some memories are “erased” from consciousness and they cannot come back to it, because its content is so disturbing or anxious that it could generate a crisis.

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

    This approach to the unconscious facet of the human mind fails in many ways, and one of the main reasons for excluding it is that, in practice, it doesn’t explain anything. Any assumption about the type of memories that a person represses is validated by his denial; simply, there is no way to prove that it is wrong and that it does not reflect what is really going on.

    If someone firmly denies witnessing a beating, for example, any significant nuance in the way they deny it can be interpreted as evidence that in their psyche there is an internal struggle to continue to block memories. related to this experience.

    On the other hand, it is known that most people who have endured traumatic moments like the effects of a natural disaster or the Holocaust remember what happened, there is no such thing. than a phenomenon of repression. How then to explain that some people believe to have recovered part of their memory after being hypnotized? The explanation of this it has to do with the unconscious, but not with its psychoanalytic conception.

    Memory is a dynamic thing

    As in any scientific intrigue, the best explanations of a phenomenon are those which, being the simplest possible, best explain what is observed in nature; this is called the principle of parsimony. For example, faced with the appearance of a locust plague, an explanation based on recent weather changes will be sparing, while one that attributes the fact to a curse, no. In the first case, there are few outstanding questions, while in the second, only one question is resolved and countless explanatory gaps are generated.

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

    The most widely accepted theory of how memory works today does not describe this cognitive ability as a process of what technically storing information would be, but as something very different: leaving a trace in the path. neurons in parts of the brain. ” ‘learns to activate in a coordinated way.

    If seeing a cat for the first time activates a network of nerve cells, recalling this memory will activate several of these cells again, but not all, and not in exactly the same way, as the state of the nervous system at the time does not. will not. be the same as the one that was present when seeing the cat: other experiences will also have left their imprints on the brain, and all will partly overlap with 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, Even if it seems to us. They change slightly over time because there is no information left untouched in the brain, all memory is affected by what is happening to us in the present. And, just as it is normal for memories to change, it is also possible to generate false memories without realizing it, by mixing appreciations 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

      Consider an example of creating false memories.

      In this tradition, the psychoanalytic influence of hypnosis is very common go through something called “regression” and that it is, more or less, the process of reliving past experiences in a very intense way, as if one were traveling in the past to observe again what happened at certain times. The aim of causing regression is usually to relive certain moments of childhood in which the thought structures characteristic of adulthood have not yet taken hold.

      In practice, the role of the person skilled in hypnosis is to create an atmosphere in which the patient is ready to believe in the authenticity of any experiences which can be seen as an ongoing regression. If in hypnosis sessions someone brings up 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 – here is confused with a memory.

      Once this has happened, it is very easy for more and more detail to spontaneously pop up on this supposed experience that “emerges”. As this happens, the molecular traces that this experience leaves in the brain (and which will later evoke a similar version of this memory) they attach themselves to neural tissue not as moments of fantasy, but as memories. The result is a person who is convinced that what he saw, heard and touched is a real representation of what happened to him a long time ago.

        Be careful during sessions with a hypnotist

        Such practices can result in cases which in themselves are a test against the power of hypnosis to bring out forgotten memories, such as patients who believe they remember what happened to them in the zygote stage. While his nervous system had not yet appeared, or people remembering facts that are known not to have happened.

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

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