Sunday 3 August saw the first full hour talk of Skeptics on the Fringe 2014 by Dr Peter Naish on ‘Real Hypnosis and False Memory’. Peter is Visiting Academic in Psychology at the Open University. He is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a member of the Experimental Psychology Society, Chair of Council of the British Society of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, where he is President-Elect of the Section of Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine.
Peter began his talk with an overview of how the brain works and in particular the role of neurons, of which there are 10 trillion each connected to 1000 others, making the human brain the most complex and sophisticated known system in the universe. While Peter noted that some actions do not involve the brain, such as reflexes when certain muscles are stimulated, the vast majority of human actions are controlled by the brain, and the stimulation of different parts of the brain creates the overall picture that we regard and remember as a conscious experience. Peter carried out a demonstration with an audience volunteer using cognitive adjustment glasses which involved striking a pen while the volunteer’s vision was distorted, demonstrating how the brain automatically adjusts itself without us necessarily always being aware of it.
This feedback, adjustment and consciousness loop is delicately balanced and is important for forming memories. Hypnosis puts the brain into unusual territory, shutting off this loop and interrupting normal formation and recollection of memories. Peter showed the audience a video of a dental patient having teeth removed while under hypnosis, with no anaesthetic used.
False memories can form because of familiar situations. To demonstrate this, Peter showed the audience a series of words around the theme of sleep, something familiar to us all. Later on, the audience was asked to recall the words and some falsely recalled certain words as having appeared, indicating they had formed false memory because of the familiarity of the theme.
So, in conclusion, should we be skeptical of hypnosis? Yes where it is used to help recall ‘memories’, but hypnosis IS real and CAN influence one’s experience of a situation.