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Hypnosis and Memory

Suggestion sometimes helps memory to an amazing degree. Numerous crimes have been solved with the aid of hypnosis. For example, police solved a 1976 kidnapping incident in Chowchilla, California (during which an entire busload of children was taken hostage) by hypnotizing the bus driver, who was not taken captive. Under hypnosis, he was able to remember part of the license number of the kidnapper's van-enough to enable the police to locate the vehicle and rescue the children.

How has hypnosis aided the solution of crimes?

A murder at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York was solved using hypnosis. A young ballerina saw a young man with a cellist before the cellist was murdered. Under hypnosis, she described the man accurately enough to lead to an arrest, later supported by other evidence.

In other cases, suspects are freed because of hypnosis. A Connecticut teenager who confessed to killing his mother was acquitted when hypnotic interviews revealed the confessions had been forced out of him through cleverly manipulative questions. In a similar incident, a man accused of pushing a college-age woman onto subway tracks in New York was acquitted when hypnosis showed his confession could not be taken seriously (Brody, 1980).

What are some cautions that must be kept in mind, concerning hypnotically aided memory?

It is important to realize that memories of past events are not like tape recordings. Memories are constructions that depend to a great extent on imagination and inference. Detail does not prove accuracy. In one case, a hypnotized witness recalled the license number of a getaway car used in a $2.7 million Brinks robbery. It was the license number of a local college president who had "an iron-clad alibi both for himself and for the car" (Holden, 1980, p.1444).


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