FBI agents jobs just got a little bit easier for solving crimes... Or did it?

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During one of my favorite shows, Criminal Minds, one of the FBI agents, Spencer, tries to remember a crime taking place during his childhood. He has reoccurring dreams about this murder that he may or may not have encountered when he was a young child. To try and get him to remember these vivid dreams, he goes to a hypnotist.


Hypnosis is a set of techniques that provides people with suggestions for alterations in their perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. So in other words, a person is put under a sleep like sort of state, and this ensures that the mind is relaxed and will respond to commands that the hypnotist says to do. When I first saw this episode of criminal minds, I wanted to know if it was actually possible to recover memories. If that was possible, then why aren't criminal investigators able to do it more often? Mythbusters did an episode to find out if this actually can happen in real life.

Below is a link from a scholarly journal from 1983 that investigates whether or not hypnotics is able to enhance the memory of witnesses.

"Despite the publication of a large number
of case studies in which hypnosis has apparently
been invaluable in the solving of a crime,
experimental attempts to demonstrate improved
memory under hypnosis have thus far
not been successful. It has been suggested that
the failure of laboratory studies to demonstrate
hypnotic memory enhancement may result
from the absence of certain essential features
present in the crime situation, such as meaningful,
dynamic stimulus materials, high emotional
arousal, and the realization that a human
life may depend on what is recalled. Furthermore,
the study of stimulus events in the
crime situation is rarely done intentionally, as
it is in the laboratory. However, several recent
laboratory studies that have attempted to include
these very characteristics nonetheless
persist in failing to demonstrate hypnotic
memory enhancement. One exception worth
pursuing is the suggestion of improved recall
under hypnosis for incidentally learned materials.
What these studies do demonstrate
quite clearly, however, is that when witnesses
are interrogated under hypnosis they are more
suggestible, showing a greater tendency to agree
with the interrogator. Because of this problem,
and an apparent trend for the courts to reject
the testimony of witnesses who have undergone
hypnosis, a search for nonhypnotic procedures
of memory enhancement appears warranted.
Three factors that may be responsible for the
improved memory under hypnosis reported
in so many anecdotes were suggested: (a) encouraging
witnesses to lower their criterion
level during memory retrieval; (b) contextual
reinstatement via a guided memory procedure;
and (c) repeated testing sessions that allow for
the occurrence of experimental hypermnesia.
If witnesses to a crime may be helped to remember
the details of the crime through the
application of these procedures without hypnosis,
the benefits of memory enhancement
could be achieved without the problematic effects
of bias inherent in hypnosis. Future research
to investigate these factors is required."

Woah. So the studies couldn't be taken in for account because they need more research. This needs replicability. I worked in Mythbusters, and in Criminal Minds, however, in an actual research setting, the experiments were not able to provide complete information. So, sorry criminal case solvers, but your job may have just gotten harder.


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I have seen that episode of Criminal Minds and I was impressed by the ability to seek the unconscious. However, this to me does seem far fetched. I understand that some events might be hidden and perhaps a hypnotist makes a person feel comfortable enough to find these events, but I think that it is highly unreliable. Also I think that the whole hypnosis is a form of "mind game" the person under hypnosis needs to allow hypnosis to take place other wise it will be unsuccessful. By definition hypnosis is a state of relaxation and concentration at one with a state of heightened awareness induced by suggestion. Also from personal experience I agree with this definition because in a school event we had a hypnosis and he attempted to hypnotize us but it did not work for everyone (like me) I wasn't a believer.

I've also seen that episode of Criminal Minds and other crime shows in which they conduct hypnosis to remember statements and remember the crime scenes. I don't believe in this at all because I think that people might say things just to appease the authorities--this leaves a lot of room for error and could end up prosecuting the wrong criminal. Also, hypnosis is conducted through suggestions from the hypnotist, so it is possible that the hypnotist could "guide" the participant into saying things. I'm sure that hypnosis works well over time for habit behaviours, but in the crime-fighting sense, I think that it wouldn't work well and that participants could later recant their statements.

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This page contains a single entry by pitz0041 published on October 9, 2011 11:44 PM.

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