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Hypnosis and the Law: Examining the Stereotypes

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 35 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2008 Pages: 1277-1294
Graham F. Wagstaff
Date Published
October 2008
18 pages
This article reviews the status of research findings on the nature of hypnosis and its effects on its subjects, contrasts these findings with popular misconceptions of the hypnotic state, and draws implications of the findings for how hypnosis should be used in criminal investigations.
Contrary to popular opinion, research findings on the hypnotic state and procedures suggest that in the hypnotic state people are not turned into helpless automatons. Neither is hypnosis a truth serum. It is not capable of contacting the unconscious and uncovering lost memories. By endorsing and promoting these popular stereotypes of hypnosis, hypnotists may have unwittingly exposed themselves to accusations of abuse allegedly committed by gaining control of and victimizing their subjects while they were unaware of what was happening to them or were unable to resist. Also by emphasizing the unique properties of hypnosis in accessing hidden memories, they may have encouraged the creation of pseudo memories. In challenging misconceptions and false claims about hypnosis, instead of describing hypnosis as a hypnotic trance or altered state of awareness, academic researchers, clinicians, and other practitioners should adopt concepts and terminology that relate hypnotic features to everyday behavior and experience, such as attention, concentration, and imagination. In the area of police work, hypnosis should be used with caution. Better interview strategies might involve cognitive aids, meditation, context reinstatement, and eye closure. 29 references