Hypnosis and the Stroop Effect
How to talk effectively about hypnosis without sounding like a snake-oil salesman and how science is just beginning to grasp how powerful hypnosis is.
Subtitle: What on earth is the Stroop effect and why on earth should we care?
The Stroop Effect is a widely studied phenomenon that looks at how the brain reacts when presented with conflicting information. In a Stroop test, the subject very quickly looks at a word and tells the tester what color the letters are. The conflict comes in when the a word is presented in one color but the word itself denotes another color. For instance, the word “red” is presented in green letters.
The Stroop Effect is very difficult to overcome with conscious effort. Why? Because it is so ingrained in us to say “red” when we see the word “red,” no matter what the letters of the word spell. It’s an automatic, conditioned, unconscious response. There’s not much you can do about it, except…
You can read all about how hypnosis can overcome the Stroop Effect here…
Hypnotic suggestion can reduce conflict in human brain, Weill Cornell medical college researchers report
But let’s look at the bigger picture…
You see, if hypnosis can help us to change automatic, conditioned, unconscious responses, you’ve got to ask yourself “What other automatic, conditioned, unconscious responses would it be useful to change?” How about automatically reaching for a cigarette or for something that’s not good for us to eat? How about helping us develop a positive automatic, conditioned, unconscious response–like exercising? And there’s a host of automatic, emotional responses that could benefit from change.
In fact there’s even been a rash of studies recently pointing out the effectiveness of hypnosis in treating various medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and poison ivy (pardon the “rash” pun). So, what’s the problem…
Back in the old west there were a group of traveling salesmen who came to be called “snake-oil salesmen.” They would travel in “medicine shows,” stopping in towns along the way, selling their tonics (sometimes claiming to be made from snakes, although there’s no such thing as “snake oil”). And if something was bothering you, guess what… their tonic was the cure! Thus, “snake-oil salesman” became the phrase to describe someone who would claim anything in order to get a sale.
When we go out into the world and proclaim hypnosis as being good for everything, we run the danger of being lumped in with snake oil salesmen. Now, you and I know that hypnosis is good for just about everything under the sun. But before you speak, think about what the average citizen thinks about it.
Most people will ask “Is hypnosis real?” After you assure them it is, they’ll ask “Can you hypnotize my husband/wife/girlfriend and make them treat me better?”
So, we have to start from the beginning.
Here are my suggestions…
Always act as if everybody knows that hypnosis is scientifically validated and has been studied extensively. Act surprised when someone says “Isn’t that a bunch of hocus-pocus?” Back that up by memorizing a few facts from a few key studies.
If you’re going to talk about hypnosis helping in a particular situation, and you don’t have a study that pertains to that specific issue, build some sort of scientific rationale for hypnosis working for that issue. It doesn’t have to be extensive.
Here’s an example for habit control. Tell folks about the Stroop Effect, how it’s an unconscious response and how hypnosis helps overcome it. Since hypnosis helps overcome unconscious responses, it can help them overcome their own unconscious responses (habits).