In the 1980s and 1990s, a moral panic took place in the US fearing Satanic ritual abuse. As part of this, certain books such as The Devil's Disciples stated that some bands, particularly in the musical genre of heavy metal, brainwashed American teenagers with subliminal messages to lure them into the worship of the devil, sexual immorality, murder, and especially suicide. The use of satanic iconography and rhetoric in this genre provokes the parents and society, and also advocate masculine power for an audience, especially on teenagers who were ambivalent of their identity. The counteraction on heavy metal in terms of satanic brainwashing is an evidence that linked to the automatic response theories of musical hypnotism.
This finding—that PHA temporarily disrupted some people’s ability to recall the past—echoes decades of hypnosis research. What is entirely new in Mendelsohn et al.’s study is their demonstration that PHA was associated with a specific pattern of brain activation. Consistent with what normally occurs in remembering, when people in the non-PHA group performed the recognition task and successfully remembered what happened in the movie, fMRI showed high levels of activity in areas responsible for visualizing scenes (the occipital lobes) and for analyzing verbally presented scenarios (the left temporal lobe). In stark contrast, when people in the PHA group performed the recognition task and failed to remember the content of the movie, fMRI showed little or no activity in these areas. Also, fMRI showed enhanced activity in another area (the prefrontal cortex) responsible for regulating activity in other brain areas.
Hypnotherapy is a form of therapy used to reprogram the subconscious mind. When under hypnosis, you put your mind and body into a heightened state of learning, making you more susceptible to suggestions for self-improvement or behavior modification. The goal is to put the subconscious and conscious mind in harmony, which in turn helps give you greater control over your behavior and emotions.
So far, so good. For people in the PHA group, brain activation measured by fMRI correlated with the failure to remember. But what if reduced activation is always found in such people regardless of whether they are remembering or forgetting? We can rule this possibility out because people in the PHA group showed reduced activation only when they (unsuccessfully) answered questions about the content of the movie, not when they (successfully) answered questions about the context of the movie. Indeed, for the context questions, they showed the same activation as people in the non-PHA group. Perhaps then, the reduced activation reflects complete forgetting of the information, not just temporary suppression? We can rule this possibility out also because, in a neat reversal, people in the PHA group showed normal activation—just as those in the non-PHA group did—as soon as the suggestion was cancelled.
Although there are different techniques, clinical hypnotherapy is generally performed in a calm, therapeutic environment. The therapist will guide you into a relaxed, focused state and ask you to think about experiences and situations in positive ways that can help you change the way you think and behave. Unlike some dramatic portrayals of hypnosis in movies, books, or on stage, you will not be unconscious, asleep, or in any way out of control of yourself. You will hear the therapist’s suggestions, but it is up to you to decide whether or not to act on them.