Popular folklore and anecdotal evidence suggests that people in a hypnotic or suggestible state may experience sensory hallucinations, such as perceiving sounds and images that are not actually there. However, reliable scientific evidence for these experiments has been notoriously difficult to obtain due to their subjective nature.
New research published in the journal Psychological science provides compelling evidence that hypnotic suggestions can help highly sensitive people “see” imaginary objects, equipping them with the missing details needed to solve an otherwise difficult visual puzzle.
“Hypnosis has intriguing effects on human behavior,” said Amir Raz, a researcher at McGill University and co-author of the article. “The careful and systematic study of hypnotic phenomena can answer important questions about mind-body interactions and advance new therapies in medicine, psychology and dentistry.”
For their research, Raz and his colleagues divided 32 participants into two groups: those who were found to be highly hypnotizable and those who were less suggestible. Participants saw an array of disconnected lines moving across a display screen. The lines, if elongated and connected, would have formed various geometric shapes, such as diamonds or triangles.
Participants were asked to determine whether the rotation of incomplete geometric figures was clockwise or counterclockwise. This task was inherently difficult because the disconnected lines lacked the visual cues needed to easily assess the direction of rotation. The success rate of participants was around 50-50, or no better than luck.
The participants then received the hypnotic suggestion to imagine that something was blocking part of each shape observed. Then they repeated the same task of determining the direction of rotation.
The results revealed that participants who were highly sensitive to the hypnotic suggestion were able to “hallucinate” visual stops above moving objects. This added imaginary element allowed participants to better visualize complete geometric shapes and to more precisely determine their direction of rotation. On average, their success rate improved to around 70%, a statistically significant change.
Participants in the least hypnotizable group, however, were no more likely to complete the observation task after a hypnotic suggestion. “While these results are consistent with our hypothesis, the data surprised us by revealing the decisive and robust nature of the effect,” said Raz.
Previous work on hypnosis has often shown its ability to suppress or suppress certain perceptual experiences. The new research shows compelling evidence that hypnotic suggestion can also enhance or introduce perceptual experiences.
“Our results support the idea that, at least in some people, the suggestions can add perceptual information to sensory input,” Raz said. “This observation adds significant weight to the theoretical, clinical and applied aspects of the brain and the psychological sciences.”
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Mathieu Landry et al, Difficult become easy: suggestion makes a difficult visual task simple, Psychological science (2020). DOI: 10.1177 / 0956797620954856
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