UT Psychologist Links Hypnotism, Memory

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — New psychological studies are raising questions about hypnosis and human memory, a University of Tennessee researcher says.

Dr. Michael Nash, UT-Knoxville psychology professor, is editor of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.

The journal’s current issue reports that when people are told they are being hypnotized, but really aren’t, they claim to remember events proven impossible to recall.

“Scientists have proven that it is not possible for adults to remember their first two years of life,” Nash said, “but our recent studies show that telling people they are under hypnosis makes them more likely to believe they have memories from infancy.

“This raises issues about how hypnosis, interrogation and other methods of memory retrieval affect the way people construct and report memory.”

The journal reports that 40 percent of subjects hypnotized said they recalled events from their first year of life. Approximately the same number, told they were under hypnosis but were not, reported similar memories.

When hypnosis was neither involved or mentioned, only 26 percent of a control group claimed to remember events from the first two years of life, Nash said.
The findings suggest people might feel they are expected to recall more if they think they are hypnotized, he said.

“People may be told about something they did as a baby or see it in a photograph,” Nash said. “They learn of it in an indirect way and erroneously interpret it as a memory.”

The research can help scientists better understand the factors at work in memory recall and how they are affected by hypnosis, Nash said.

“Memory is not like a videotape, where you just rewind to a spot and play it back. The power of suggestion, our expectations, and the context in which we are asked questions are among the factors determining how humans create and modify their life stories.”