High hypnotizable people with PHA typically show impaired explicit memory, or difficulty consciously recalling events or material targeted by the suggestion, and a dissociation between implicit and explicit memory, so that even though they can’t recall the forgotten information it continues to influence their behavior, thoughts and actions. The forgetting is reversible—when the suggestion is cancelled, their memories come flooding back. These last two features—the dissociation and reversibility—confirm that PHA is not the result of poor encoding of the memories or of normal forgetting, because the memories return as soon as PHA is cancelled. Rather, PHA reflects a temporary inability to retrieve information that is safely stored in memory. That makes it a useful tool for research.
An approach loosely based on information theory uses a brain-as-computer model. In adaptive systems, feedback increases the signal-to-noise ratio, which may converge towards a steady state. Increasing the signal-to-noise ratio enables messages to be more clearly received. The hypnotist's object is to use techniques to reduce interference and increase the receptability of specific messages (suggestions).
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The central theoretical disagreement regarding hypnosis is known as the "state versus nonstate" debate. When Braid introduced the concept of hypnotism, he equivocated over the nature of the "state", sometimes describing it as a specific sleep-like neurological state comparable to animal hibernation or yogic meditation, while at other times he emphasised that hypnotism encompasses a number of different stages or states that are an extension of ordinary psychological and physiological processes. Overall, Braid appears to have moved from a more "special state" understanding of hypnotism toward a more complex "nonstate" orientation.
Jump up ^ For example, see Media Release 89/70: issued on 12/4/1989, by Peter Collins — who was, at the time, the NSW State Government Minister for Health — which announced that the N.S.W. Government had made "a decision not to proceed with plans to place controls on Hypnosis and to ban Stage Hypnosis". Also, see Dewsbury, R., "Reversal by Govt over hypnotists", The Sydney Morning Herald, (Thursday, 13 April 1989), p.8.
After hypnosis, participants’ memories were tested twice while the fMRI scanner recorded their brain activity. For Test 1, they were asked 40 questions about the content of the movie (for example, the actress knocked on her neighbor’s door on the way home) and 20 questions about the context in which they saw the movie (for instance, during the movie, the door to the study room was closed). These questions required a “yes” or “no” response. For Test 2, participants were asked the same 60 recognition questions, but first they heard the cue to cancel PHA. So Test 1 measured memory performance and brain activity while the PHA suggestion was in effect and Test 2 measured memory performance and brain activity after it was cancelled.
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Controversy surrounds the use of hypnotherapy to retrieve memories, especially those from early childhood or (supposed) past-lives. The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association caution against recovered-memory therapy in cases of alleged childhood trauma, stating that "it is impossible, without corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one." Past life regression, meanwhile, is often viewed with skepticism.
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It is used for a wide variety of applications, and studies into its efficacy are often of poor quality which makes it difficult to determine efficacy. Several recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews of the literature on various conditions have concluded that the efficacy of hypnotherapy is "not verified", that there is no evidence or insufficient evidence for efficacy.