Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy Explained ...

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Subliminal Suggestions in Hypnosis Recordings
By Tom Connelly, D.Hyp
, FBSCH

There is often debate among hypnotists about the value and effectiveness of subliminal suggestion. Typically the vehicle of these suggestions is a hypnosis recording of some type where subliminal commands are encoded into the media, which cannot be heard by the listener under normal conditions. The whole concept is based on the supposition that the unconscious mind has a greater perceptual sensitivity than the conscious mind and is able to hear or see what the conscious mind does not. Thus it is intended that conscious critical faculties will be bypassed and that suggestions delivered in this way will be accessible to the unconscious mind uncensored.

The chief argument against the validity of this theory seems to be that subliminal suggestions will fail precisely because they cannot be heard by the conscious mind. This seems to suggest that the unconscious mind either does not accept information that the conscious mind has not first acknowledged, or that suggestions accepted by the unconscious mind are not actuated unless there is preliminary conscious recognition.

It must be said that there is a paucity of scientific data to substantiate the claims of those who use subliminal suggestion in hypnosis but it is possible to reflect on the theory in the light of practical experience. Does the unconscious mind perceive more than the conscious mind and if in doing so does it act on these perceptions?

We should first consider the phenomenon known as hyper-acuity, which is a condition of hypersensitivity of the senses. In deep hypnosis a subject may spontaneously access these heightened faculties but it can also be induced by suggestion. Hyper-acuity seems to be available to all the senses but it is most noticeable (and measurable) with the senses of hearing and sight.

In one notable experiment (which was devised to explore extra sensory perception under hypnosis) a subject began to 'read the mind' of the operator by unerringly guessing the design on the cards which he was looking at. It later transpired that the success was not telepathic in nature but something equally remarkable. The subject had heightened his visual perception to such an extent that he could see the reflection of the cards in the pupils of the experimenter!

In another similar experiment a hypnotised subject heard and recorded in detail a quiet conversation presented from a tape recorder even though the machine was over 100 meters away. In both these cases the subjects involved were unable to replicate their success in normal waking conditions. It does seem that people may have greater sensory awareness than is normally experience, so perhaps it is possible that an individual can detect information presented beneath the normal conscious sensory threshold?

Does this prove that subliminal suggestion on hypnosis recordings work? This still isn't clear because in these experiments the subject were give suggestions designed to increase sensory acuity and this does not seem to be the case with subliminal recordings. Here it is assumed that this sensory acuity is a spontaneously occurring phenomenon of hypnosis and this may not be the case. Also it must be noted that although the subjects in the experiments quoted were deeply hypnotised they still perceived consciously and were able to report results directly to the operator.
This is contrary to the point of subliminal suggestion, which is that it passes the conscious mind undetected.

What about sleep hypnosis or sleep learning? In both these cases information is absorbed into the unconscious mind which is apparently undetected by the conscious mind. This might well give some validity to the idea of subliminal suggestion were it not for the fact that in both these instances the suggestions are delivered at such a sound volume that they could be heard if the listener was awake. So technically they cannot be said to be below the threshold of conscious awareness.

Should we consider the placebo effect? After all this is now accepted in scientific praxis and medical practitioners will concede that it can be responsible for the efficacy of any medication by as much as 15%. Perhaps simply because a recording is presented as having beneficial subliminal commands its effectiveness is increased by a similar percentage? This is of course pure speculation but in practice it is very difficult (if not impossible) to exclude the placebo effect from any hypnotic practice. I believe a great deal of the value of hypnosis in therapy is due to subliminal signalling on the part of both the hypnotist and the subject.

The only way that the value of subliminal suggestion in recorded sessions will be finally ascertained is when enough properly conducted research has been made and enough scientific data has been generated. However we can all experiment with subliminal instruction in simple and interesting ways. 

One test I carried out with a few friends made use of a taped recording and a pendulum. 
On side A of the tape I recorded the phrase "Spin the pendulum clockwise" about 20 times and on the other side I recorded "Spin the pendulum anticlockwise" a similar number of times. 

Then, after seating a volunteer and getting them to swing the pendulum in a straight line from side to side, I placed the tape in the tape deck. I should point out that the volume of the player was set before hand so that the listener could not hear the words and that I 'shuffled' the tape behind my back so that even I didn't know which side would play before it did. 

After running the taped suggestions for a while the pendulum eventually began to swing in a circular motion. This direction was noted and the experiment repeated. Out of ten tests with one subject and four tests with another (giving 14 tests in all) the pendulum eventually began to swing in the direction subliminally suggested on 10 occasions, giving results that were significantly better than chance.

Of course this is a most unscientific experiment, having such a small number of test runs and no isolated control group (where volunteers unknowingly listened to tapes that had no suggestions on them) but it has given me more confidence in the possibility that subliminal suggestion might have a measurable effect.  

In my test the subjects were not formally hypnotised (though after ten sessions looking at a pendulum swing who could say!) and perhaps at some future time it would be interesting to re-run the experiment using hypnotised subjects who have been given suggestions to increase sensory awareness.

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