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Earlier this year a study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (published under the American Psychological Association) that found hypnosis can have profound effects on executive function – the cognitive processes that regulate our goals as well as the thought processes and actions oriented towards achieving those goals.

This is known as the Clever Hands test and it has been used in previous experiments that have shown that people are unable to switch off their unconscious motivation for answering the trivia questions correctly. Truly answering the questions at random would logically give an accuracy rate of around 50% for “yes” or “no” questions but that is not seen in the results of these trials. Dr Vince Polito, a co-author of the study from CCD, told BuzzFeed News that people are unable to switch off their automatic response mechanism even when motivated by money or placed under time constraints.

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The researchers found that hypnotising participants successfully inhibited their automatic tendency to correctly answer the easy questions.

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This successful response to the Clever Hands test highlights a potential for hypnosis in “treating addictions or compulsive behaviours, where people don’t feel like they’re able to inhibit very ingrained responses”, said Polito.

One 2002 study demonstrated that by hypnotising participants and suggesting that the language that appears on a screen is foreign and they are unable to understand it, the Stroop effect is overcome and participants will correctly name the font colour. However, while Polito states that there is a general consensus in the hypnosis field that this experiment gave true results, there are some controversies attached to the Stroop effect study, with some failures to replicate its results.

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The ability to be hypnotised (hypnotisability) varies across the population.
Approximately 10-15% of people are known as “high hypnotisable” and they will experience alterations in perception, cognition, memory and action while under hypnosis. Another 10-15% are “low hypnotisable” and these are people who experience almost nothing in response to suggestion. McAuley believes that the most important component in regulating the hypnotism market would be transparency for consumers. “What I would like to know if I went to see somebody is what training they’ve had. Whether there’s a regulatory body that oversees that [is not of concern] but I’d like to at least know where they were trained and what sort of training they’ve had.” Polito’s greatest concern with Australia’s lack of hypnosis regulation is that this may undermine the benefits of the practice that science is uncovering.

“It’s concerning as a scientist studying hypnosis thinking ‘This is an important and interesting phenomenon‘. The kind of negative associations around hypnosis make it harder to have this work taken more seriously.”

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