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The myth of memories

The myth of memories "unlocked" by hypnosis

June 17, 2024

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

Even though Hypnosis is a tool that has shown efficacy When it comes to treating certain psychological and health problems, its bad practice has meant that, for years, some people suffered a lot. The reason for this has to do with a myth: that a hypnotist can make memories of the patient "liberated", that reveal facts that seemed forgotten. How do we know that this does not correspond to reality? You can read it below.


  • Related article: "Hypnosis, that great unknown"

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, though with certain nuances.

In the first place, 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 the appearance of the latter.) From this perspective, there are certain components of the mind. that conspire so that, whatever happens, certain memories are "erased" from consciousness and can not return to it, since its content is so disturbing or anxious that they could generate crisis.


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 come to consciousness and can be reformulated.

This approach to the unconscious facet of the human mind fails on many sides, and one of the main reasons for discarding it is that, in practice, it does not explain anything. Any hypothesis about the type of memories a person is suppressing is validated by their denial; simply, there is no way to prove that it is false and that it does not reflect what actually happens.

If someone strongly denies having witnessed a beating, for example, any significant nuance in the way he denies it can be interpreted as evidence that in his psyche there is an internal struggle 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 is it explained then that some people believe they have recovered parts of their memory after being hypnotized? The explanation to this it has to do with the unconscious mind, but not with the psychoanalytic conception of this .

Memory is something dynamic

As it happens in any plot of science, the best explanations for a phenomenon are those that, being as simple as possible, better explain what is observed in nature; it is what is known as the principle of parsimony. For example, before the appearance of a plague of locusts an explanation based on recent weather changes will be parsimonious, while one that attributes the fact to a curse, no. In the first case there are few pending questions, while in the second case a single question is solved and an infinite number of explanatory gaps are generated.

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

The most widely accepted theory about the functioning of memory today does not describe this cognitive capacity as a process of what would technically be storage of information, but as something very different: to leave a mark on the way in which the neurons of certain parts of the Encephalon "learn" to be activated in a coordinated manner.

If seeing a cat for the first time activates a network of nerve cells, when evoking that memory a good part of those cells will be activated again, although not all, and not in an 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 at the sight of the cat: other experiences will have also left their imprints 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 with the passage of time.

So, even if we do not do anything, our memories never stay the same , although it seems to us.They are modified slightly with the passage of 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 the values ​​about the past with those of the present. In the case of hypnosis, the tool to achieve this effect is suggestion.

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How to "release" memories through hypnosis

Let's see an example of generating false memories.

In that tradition of psychoanalytic influence of hypnosis is very common resort to something called "regression" and that 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 objective of provoking a regression is usually to experience again certain moments of childhood in which the structures of thought characteristic of adulthood have not yet settled.

In practice, the role of the person versed in hypnosis is to create a climate in which the patient is willing to believe in the authenticity of all experiences that can be seen as regression in process. If, during the 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 the simple fact of imagining an experience similar to that is confused with a memory.

Once this has happened, it is very easy to spontaneously appear more and more details about that supposed experience that is "emerging". As this happens, the molecular traces that this experience leaves in the brain (and that will make it possible for a similar version to recall that memory later) they are becoming fixed in the neuronal tissue not as moments of fantasy, but as if they were memories. The result is a person convinced that what he has seen, heard and touched is a real representation of what happened to him long ago.

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Caution in sessions with hypnotist

These types of practices are capable of resulting in cases that in themselves are a test against the power of hypnosis to make forgotten memories emerge, such as patients who believe they remember what happened to them in their zygote stage when not yet His nervous system had appeared, or people who remember facts that are known not to have happened.

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.


Finding out I have a repressed memory (June 2024).


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