Memory, concentration and creativity: hypnosis to study.

Evidences on the efficacy of hypnotic interventions on academic and school performance.

While the efficacy of hypnosis in improving athletic performance was becoming clear, scientific community started to explore its potential in other fields. One of such fields experimented its use to improve academic and school results1. The aim of researchers was to answer the following question: is it possible to improve the efficacy of learning processes through hypnosis? In other words: can hypnosis provide effective tools to the individual in order to use his own mental resources in the best possible way?
A research that was conducted in 2006 by the Columbia University2 confirmed that hypnosis can profoundly act on cognitive processes. Researchers wanted to verify the possibility, through hypnotic interventions, to regain conscious control on a highly automated cognitive function: reading. It is broadly accepted that semantic processing, that is the function that allows to connect the meaning of a word to its form, is an unintentional, automatic and hardly suppressible process. An experimental evidence of such principle lies in a phenomenon that happens when a person is asked to tell as quickly al possible the colour of a word on a screen. If the text is coloured in blue, but the projected word is “green”, the subject, almost invariably, will say “green”. This phenomenon is called “Stroop Effect”3. Researchers of the Columbia University demonstrated that if the subject is instructed, during a hypnotic trance, to pay attention only to the colour of the projected stimulus, then the accuracy with which the task will be accomplished will remarkably increase to such an extent that, in some cases, the Stroop effect disappears.
Neuroscience also demonstrated that the neural networks that are used to learn under hypnotic trance are different than those used in a waking state. Different brain activation patterns confer to perceived stimuli more vividness regardless of the sensory channels through which they are presented4,5,6. As a consequence, a clear improvement of mnemonic performance can be observed in subjects that are asked to read and remember pairs of words6. Researchers also noticed that, while in hypnotic state, a greater activation of the areas used to maintain attention on specific stimuli, excluding irrelevant ones, occurs.
This latter phenomenon is fundamental to elaborate and memorize contents, in fact, it became object of a research conducted by the University of South Wales, Sidney7. Researchers verified whether hypnosis could improve the focusing of attention, as suggested by previous studies, which demonstrated that the attempt not to think to something, increases the likelihood that this same thing may present itself to consciousness; this is true especially when subjects are involved in cognitively complex activities8,9. A group of subjects in hypnotic state re-lived an embarrassing situation of their past.
Once this was done, half of the participants were instructed to try to suppress that thought and this instruction wasn’t given to the others. In the following phase a scrambled sentence task was given and results showed that the group that received suggestions to suppress the embarrassing situation, actually thought about it less frequently compared to the control group. Despite the fact that emotionally relevant contents (in this case the embarrassing situation) are usually harder to suppress, hypnotic induction allowed to reduce the interference of such thoughts, thus preserving the execution of the task.
In what other ways can hypnosis improve learning? An example comes from a research conducted in 200610 in which it was demonstrated that, while in hypnotic state, the subject can improve his semantic processing abilities and access more effectively to his own creative resources. Two groups of patients were asked to provide as many words beginning with a certain letter and belonging to a specific semantic area (e.g. animals, food, clothing etc.) as they could. While a group carried out the task in hypnotic state, the other one carried it out in a normal state of consciousness. Results demonstrated that the number of words that was attained by the hypnosis group was higher than that of the control group. Furthermore, the hypnosis group made fewer errors (repetitions of words or words that did not belong to the suggested semantic category). In another trial, participants were asked to decide if a certain word was orthographically correct or not. Also in this task, performances of hypnotized subjects have been better in terms of speed and accuracy.
In summary, hypnosis can improve memory, concentration, creativity, accuracy and favours a deeper control of one’s own cognitive resources. Finally we report one last study that showed how much hypnosis can be useful to improve academic performance. Researchers1 recruited a group of 119 students and, after recording their April grades, they divided them in 4 groups. In two of them, two different hypnotic techniques, both aimed to enhance learning skills, were used; the third group received relaxation sessions and the fourth one was a control group. The first 3 groups received their sessions once a week for 8 weeks. Results showed that in June the grades of the hypnosis group participants improved more than those of the other two groups. Inductions were carried out at the same time on groups of students. This aspect is very important because it qualifies hypnosis as a cheap and convenient instrument compared to individual approaches.


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Dr. Nicoletta Gava
+39 320.2350523

Dr. Giancarlo Di Bartolomeo

+39 011.303.50.32

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