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No. 38: Mar-Apr 1985

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Hypnosis And Memory

Hypnotic hypernesia is the unusually vivid and complete recall of information from memory while under hypnosis. The present article reviews the extensive literature on the subject and the longstanding controversy as to whether hypnosis can enhance memory at all.

One fact does seem clear, hypnosis does not help subjects recall nonsense data or information without meaning, such as random numbers and words. When it comes to meaningful phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc., hypnosis does aid recall to some extent. If the words evoke considerable imagery, as poetry often does, hypnosis seems to help recall even more. Finally, the recall of meaningful visual images and connected series of images is helped most of all by hypnosis. In fact, there is some evidence that eidetic imagery, that vivid, near-total recall of images, which is almost exclusively a talent of childhood, can be recovered by mature subjects under hypnosis. There do not seem to be any theories that explain all these effects of hypnosis on memory.

(Relinger, Helmut; "Hypnotic Hypernesia," American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 26:212, 1984.)

Comment. Of course, memory shorn of hypnotic effects cannot really be explained either. The results of Relinger's survey make one wonder whether the human brain is specially "wired" or built to efficiently handle visual imagery that is "meaningful" in the context of human experience and theoretical expectations. This kind of construction is quite different from computer memories which process meaningless data as easily as meaningful data. UFOs, sea monsters, N-rays, etc. might just be eidetic images from human memories evoked by certain stimuli and encouraged by suggestion.

From Science Frontiers #38, MAR-APR 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss