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Pseudomemory and Age Regression: An Exploratory Study a


Steven Jay Lynn Ph.D. , Matthew Milano & John R. Weekes



Ohio University , USA Published online: 21 Sep 2011.

To cite this article: Steven Jay Lynn Ph.D. , Matthew Milano & John R. Weekes (1992) Pseudomemory and Age Regression: An Exploratory Study, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 35:2, 129-137, DOI: 10.1080/00029157.1992.10402995 To link to this article:

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Pseudomemory and Age Regression: An Exploratory Study Steven Jay Lynn, Matthew Milano, and John R. Weekes

Ohio University Hypnotizable (N = 9) and simulating subjects (N = 8) were age regressed to the previous week's hypnosis session and received a suggestion to hear a phone ring during the earlier session (no phone actually rang). Pseudomemory rates in response to open-ended questions were low in this study (0% hypnotizable and simulating subjects) and in previous research (Lynn, Weekes, & Milano, 1989; 12.5% hypnotizable; 10% simulating subjects) in which the phone-ring suggestion was not embedded in the context of age regression. In response to a forcedchoice question, 22.22% of the hypnotizable and 25% ofthe simulating subjects indicated that the suggested phone ring was an actual event, a pseudomemory rate somewhat higher than our previous study in which none of the subjects reported pseudomemories in response to a forced-choice question. When the occurrence of the target stimulus of a pseudomemory suggestion is publicly verifiable, the pseudomemory rate is low.

Investigators dating back to Bernheim (see Laurence & Perry, 1988) have been intrigued by the phenomenon of pseudomemories-hypnotically suggested memories. Since research by Laurence and Perry (Laurence, 1983; Laurence & Perry, 1983) used Orne's (Orne, 1979) memorycreation paradigm to investigate pseudomemories in the laboratory, they have come under active experimental scrutiny. Laurence and Perry asked hypnotizable

For reprints write to Steven Jay Lynn, Ph.D., PsychologyDepartment,Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701. Received September II, 1991; revised February 26, 1992; accepted for publication June 26, 1992.

subjects to select a night of the previous week during which they reported no specific memories ofawakening or dreaming. After being hypnotically age regressed back to the night in question, subjects were administered the following suggestion: "I want you to tell me whether you hear some loud noises ... some noises that may sound like back-firings of a car, or door slammings ... some loud noises." Following hypnosis, approximately 48% of the subjects exhibited pseudomemory-they maintained that the suggested sounds had actually occurred or they were uncertain about the reality status of their experience. The remaining subjects correctly reported that the noises had been suggested to them. Researchers (Labelle, Laurence, Nadon, & Perry, 1990; McCann & Sheehan, 1988; 129

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Spanos & McClean, 1986) have confirmed these preliminary findings, using a variety of experimental designs (Lynn, Weekes, & Milano, 1989; McCann & Sheehan, 1987,1988; McConkey, Labelle, Bibb, & Bryant, 1990; Sheehan, Statham, & Jamieson, 1991; Spanos, Gwynn, Comer, Baltruweit, & deGroh, 1989). In these studies, pseudomemory rates have ranged from approximately 0-80%, with rates varying as a function of aptitudinal (i.e., hypnotizability, preference for imagic style) and contextual factors. An influential hypothesis is that contextual factors are important determinants of pseudomemories. For example, Spanos and McLean (1986) contend that pseudomemories reflect contextually driven voluntary reporting biases rather than genuine memory distortions. In support of this viewpoint, they found that the rate of pseudomemory was readily manipulated by using hidden-observer instructions that provided subjects with varying expectancies for reporting or not reporting false memories. Thus, pseudomemories may reflect compliance rather than genuine memory alteration (or a mix of both components). The importance of the test context is also evident in research conducted by McConkey and his colleagues (McConkey et aI., 1990). These researchers found that the pseudomemory rate decreased as the temporal and situational link between the establishment and test of a pseudomemory became more distant, and that hypnotized and awake subjects responded comparably. Finally, a study by Weekes, Lynn, Brentar, and Green (1991) suggests that the procedures themselves, whether administered to hypnotized or nonhypnotized task-motivated (Barber, 1969) subjects, may be responsible for pseudomemory reports.


We (Lynn, Weekes, & Milano, 1989) recently tested the hypothesis that hypnotizable subjects would evidence a very low pseudomemory rate when the suggested to-be-remembered event could plausibly have occurred within the experimental context, was objective and publicly verifiable, and was within the subject's field of experience. To examine the role of experimental demand characteristics, we compared hypnotized subjects' responses with that of unhypnotizable subjects who were instructed to simulate hypnosis. Subjects received a forced-choice, unambiguous suggestion to hear a phone ring and to listen to an experimental assistant converse with the party who called. Unlike the Laurence and Perry paradigm, the target event was not embedded in an age-regression suggestion, and unlike McCann and Sheehan's research, the target event could have plausibly occurred within the experimental context. Only a small percentage of subjects (11.5%) indicated that a phone rang in their open-ended reports. In response to a forced-choice question, none of the subjects indicated that a phone actually rang. Hypnotized and simulating subjects responded comparably. These results are harmonious with McCann and Sheehan's (1987,1988)finding that the pseudomemory rate is low (23%, Study 2, 1988) when the events to-be-remembered are objective and publicly verifiable. Nonetheless, the pseudomemory rate of our research was somewhat lower than that obtained by McCann and Sheehan (1988) in which pseudomemory was tested in the context of suggestions for age regression. As the authors (see McCann & Sheehan, 1988, Study 1) note, age-regression suggestions may create an ambiguous "cognitive context," blurring the distinction between hypnotic and nonhypnotic states, resulting in

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an increase in the pseudomemory rate. This hypothesis-that age regression suggestions increase the pseudomemory rate-was not confirmed in a second study in our laboratory (Lynn, Milano, & Weekes, 1991). In this study subjects were age regressed to the previous week, and it was suggested that they heard a phone ring while they were filling out questionnaires. In fact, no phone rang during the session. Furthermore, subjects also received a suggestion to reexperience an event that actually occurred during the screening session (i.e., a man spilling pencils and picking them up while subjects completed questionnaires). Under these test conditions, by the last recall trial none of the 47 subjects tested exhibited pseudomemory. One plausible reason why the age-regression hypothesis was not confirmed is that pseudomemories may be suppressed when the pseudomemory suggestion is temporally linked to an actual event, a fact which may have substantial forensic implications. That is, the inclusion of the suggestions to reexperience the man dropping the pencils may have created cues that engendered contextual reinstatement of the events, thereby facilitating accurate recall. The present study examined whether subjects would exhibit a higher pseudomemory rate than previous research (Lynn et al., 1989) when the possibility of a suppression effect of the type alluded to above was minimized by ensuring that the the suggested phone ring was not linked with an actual event that occurred during the session. Given the potential importance of the test context, we included a group oflow-hypnotizable, simulating subjects to assess the demand characteristics associated with administering the suggestion in the context of age regression.



Subjects In an initial screening session, the liveadministered Harvard Group Scale ofHypnotic Susceptibility, Form A (HGSHS:A; Shor & Orne, 1962)was administered to 63 subjects who volunteered in exchange for course credit. High- (N = 12; 10-12 suggestions passed) and low- (N = 8; 0-3 suggestions passed) hypnotizable subjects were contacted by phone and invited to return for the second session in which the pseudomemory suggestion was administered. The final sample of high hypnotizable (HGSHS:A M = 10.56, SD = .86) subjects was also required to pass the ageregression and positive-hallucination suggestions described below, which were administered during the second session, reducing the N in this group to 9 subjects. Simulating subjects (N = 8) were required to score in the 0-3 range on the Harvard Scale (M = 2.25 ; SD = .46). All subjects indicated that they had at least some experience of being hypnotized during the ageregression suggestion and were able to experience the phone ring, as indicated by scoring at least 2 on relevant posthypnotic items described below. The 17 subjects (males = 7; females = 10) volunteered in exchange for course credit.

Treatment of Hypnotic and Simulating Subjects In the screening phase, subjects were informed that our research group was attempting to compile a profile of how Ohio University students compare with other hypnosis subjects across the nation. For the actual experimental phase, a project coordinator read subjects detailed simulating instructions that were adapted from Orne (1959). Simulators were informed

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that intelligent subjects could simulate hypnosis, but if their pretense were detected, the hypnotist would tap them on the shoulder and excuse them from the room. The simulators were informed that highly hypnotizable subjects would be co-participants. Simulators were also asked to continue role playing excellent hypnotic subjects until the project coordinator told them to stop at the conclusion of the study. We assumed that these measures, including pressure to avoid being detected and ejected from the experiment in a group context, would ensure a high level of motivation to simulate. Hypnotizable subjects were also met by an assistant; they discussed their previous hypnotic experiences while the simulators received instructions. The hypnotic subjects had no knowledge that simulating subjects were participating in the same groups.

Induction and Suggestions The experiment proper was conducted in groups ranging in size from 3 to 10 subjects. Subjects were seated in such a way that they could not observe each other's responses. The hypnotist was blind to the subjects' status. The hypnotic procedure was identical for both hypnotic and simulating subjects. Subjects received a version ofthe hand-lowering induction taken from the Stanford Profile Scales of Hypnotic Susceptibility, Form 2 (Weitzenhoffer & Hilgard, 1967), adapted for group administration. Deepening suggestions that followed the induction involved imagining walking down a magnificent spiral staircase. Following the induction the following suggestions were administered: (1) force pushing arms apart; (2) positive hallucination of a cup (see Stanley, Lynn, & Nash, 1986); (3) age regression to age 5 to a relaxing scene with Mommy, in which


she asks the child to spell "I am participating in a psychological experiment"; and (4) hand-levitation suggestions with balloon imagery, preceded by instructions to think and imagine along with the suggestion but to resist responding (Lynn, Nash, Rhue, Frauman, & Sweeney, 1984).

Experimental Manipulation The suggestion to hear the phone ring was administered following the age-regression suggestion. To establish a subtle cue that a suggestion would follow, deepening suggestions of going deeper and deeper into a hypnotic sleep were inserted after each suggestion. The deepening instructions prior to the telephone suggestion included the phrase "nothing can disturb you" (intonation of phrase emphasized). A telephone was prominently displayed in a front corner of the room, about five feet from the hypnotist in the screening and in the experimental session, which were conducted in the same room. The prior week's session when the phone call was supposed to have occurred was the session where the HGSHS:A was administered.

Age-regression Suggestion Focus on your experience now, that's it. Deeply hypnotized. I am particularly interested in what people experience during hypnosis. At the end of our session, you will have an opportunity to comment on your experience of hypnosis. What are you feeling now? What do you feel in different parts of your body? Register what your experience is. I am also interested in what you experienced in our earlier session last week. In fact, with some simple hypnotic suggestions, your memory can be sharp and true, you can experience what you experienced last week, just as it was for you.

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Consider this question, "What were you experiencing during last week's session when the telephone rang? Because you may have been so deeply hypnotized, I will give you some suggestions to improve your recall of last week's session, to help you re-experience what you experienced earlier. Think about the phone ringing, go back in time now ... back in time ... listen carefully now ... as you listen carefully, you will begin to hear the phone ringing. Yes, hear it now, the telephone is ringing twice ... hear it ring loud and clear ... it is becoming louder and clearer. You hear the telephone ringing more and more clearly .. . more and more clearly. You can hear the telephone ringing now. You can hear (assistant's name) answering the phone; you can hear her/ him clearly, very clearly; you can hear (assistant's name) saying, "Hello, no, he's not here. This is _ _ _ (assistant's name) speaking. I can't talk now; I'm with a group of deeply hypnotizedpeople. Ok, fine, I'll tell him. Bye." O.K., that's the end of the conversation. He's hanging up now. ___ (assistant's name) is no longer talking on the telephone. The conversation has ended." Now that you are re-experiencing the phone ring and conversation, I ask you, "What is your experience?" (pause) Focus on what you feel. "What do you feel in your body?" (pause) Ok, you don't have to think about that anymore. Soon we will continue. Relax ...

Questionnaire and Dependent Measures Following the administration of the suggestions, subjects completed questionnaires that contained the following openended questions: (I) Describe each of the suggestions and your thoughts, feelings, and reactions in response to each of them;


(2) During last week's session, were there times during the experiment when you were more able to concentrate and flow with the experience of hypnosis than at other times? Describe those instances; (3) During last week' s session, were you aware of any sounds during the experiment (e.g., people talking out in the hall, the hum of the heating system, a car outside)? Subjects were scored as indicating the phone was suggested (spontaneous) ifthey mentioned the phone or telephone conversation in reference to the first question that asked them to describe their responses to the suggestions. If subjects mentioned the phone ring or conversation in response to the subsequent questions about concentration and sounds, they were scored as experiencing the phone as a "real," objective occurrence (spontaneous). Rate of interrater agreement on these measures (total) was 99%. Subjects also completed the following 1-5-point, Likert-type questions: (I) How deeply hypnotized were you during the age-regression suggestion? I = not at all, 3 =somewhat, 5 =deeply, and (2) To what extent were you able to have a lifelike experience of the phone ringing? I = not at all, 3 = to some degree, 5 = to a great degree. Subjects were then asked the following forced-choice question: (I) Did you hallucinate (i.e., vividly imagine) a phone ringing or did the phone actually ring? Circle one: A. I hallucinated/vividly imagined the phone ringing; it was suggested to me. The phone did not actually ring. B. The phone actually rang; it was not suggested that I hear it. The order of the questions was counterbalanced across subjects. After subjects completed the questionnaire, the project coordinator told the simulators to stop role playing and subjects were debriefed.




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Hypnotic Depth and Perceptions of the Telephone Analyses of variance (ANOV A) performed on the measures of hypnotic depth and how lifelike the telephone ring was perceived to be did not reveal real/simulator differences, F(l, 15) = 4.05, p = .063 (M depth real = 3.67, M depth simulator = 4.38); F(l, 15) = .43, n.s. (M lifelike real = 2.67; M lifelike simulator = 3.13). It is notable that the ability to achieve statistically significant findings may have been compromised by power limitations associated with the small number of subjects in the samples. Pseudomemory Measures In response to the spontaneous measure of pseudomemory, none of the real or simulating subjects who received a suggestion to hear a phone in the previous week's session indicated that a real phone actually rang. Two-thirds of the hypnotizable subjects and 62.5% of the simulating subjects identified the phone suggestion as a suggestion in their open-ended reports, whereas the remainder of the subjects in each group did not mention that a phone rang. The chi-square analysis comparing the frequency of responses for these categories across real and simulating subjects was not significant (X2(2) = 0.0). In response to the forced-choice measure that followed, 22.22% of the hypnotizable and 25 % of the simulating subjects exhibited pseudomemory by indicating that a phone rang. About half of the hypnotizable (55.56%) and half of the simulating subjects indicated the phone ring was suggested, and 22.22% of the hypnotized and 25% of the simulating subjects wrote "don't remember."

Discussion This research provides support for the hypothesis that the pseudomemory rate is low when the occurrence or nonoccurrence of the target stimulus of a pseudomemory suggestion is publicly verifiable and when the target event occurs in the subject's direct field of experience. Under these test conditions, in open-ended reports, neither hypnotizable nor simulating subjects reported pseudomemories. Furthermore, about two-thirds of hypnotizable and simulating subjects mentioned the phone as a suggested event when asked to describe the suggestions they received. The low rate of pseudomemory exhibited by subjects is in accord with previous findings from our laboratory in which pseudomemory reports in response to open-ended, free-recall questions about hearing a suggested telephone ring ranged from 0% for hypnotized subjects (Lynn et al., 1991), to 12.5% for hypnotized, and 10% for simulating subjects (Lynn et aI., 1989). With respect to forced-choice and potentially misleading questions, the present study's pseudomemory rate (22.2% hypnotized versus 25% simulating subjects) is somewhat higher than that of our previous research using the phone-ring stimulus in which subjects were either not age regressed (0% hypnotized and simulating subjects, Lynn, Weekes, & Milano, 1989) or were age regressed in a test context in which subjects were also asked to recall an event that actually occurred (2%, initial item; 0% at end of study). The pseudomemory rate of hypnotizable subjects in the present research is strikingly similar to that reported by Sheehan and McCann (23%; Study 2, 1988),who age regressed subjects and also used an event that was publicly verifiable as a pseudomemory stimulus (i.e., video-

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tape of a bank robbery). The finding that simulators matched hypnotizable subjects' responding replicates earlier findings (Lynn et al., 1989) that pseudomemory reports can be simulated and constitutes support for the contention (McCann & Sheehan, 1988; McConkey et al., 1990; Orne, 1979; Spanos & McLean, 1986) that features of the test situation can serve as the basis of pseudomemory reports. Consistent with the present research, other investigations have found that pseudomemory rates are low in conditions in which the events are made publicly verifiable by confronting subjects with the reality of the stimulus event, which is the target of the pseudomemory suggestion, in the context of a recognition-recall paradigm (McCann & Sheehan, 1988; Sheehan et al., 1991). When target events of pseudomemory suggestions are not publicly verifiable, the pseudomemory rate is invariably higher (see Lynn et al., 1991). However, research designs that directly compare pseudomemory rates with respect to events that are publicly verifiable and events that are not publicly verifiable are needed before more definitive conclusions about the importance of perceived verifiability are warranted. The low pseudomemory rate of the present research may be attributable to a number of factors in addition to perceived verifiability. By referring to suggestions in the initial open report that preceded the forced-choice question, the test of open report could have inadvertently linked subjects' reaction to unreality, rather than to reality, and could have operated to challenge subjects at the outset as to the veracity of their responses (see also Lynn et al., 199I). Another possibility is that the use of the word "hallucinate" in the forcedchoice inquiry about the phone ring might have confused or upset college students


who do not wish to construe their experiences in this manner. An intriguing finding was that simulators did not evidence pseudomemory except under forced-choice questioning. This may have occurred because of the cues conveyed by the instructions ("Because you may have been so deeply hypnotized, I will give you some suggestions to improve your recall of last week's session, to help you re-experience what you experienced earlier.") that strongly queried whether inaccurate recall was appropriate during hypnosis and reinforced later veridical recall. With respect to the forcedchoice questioning, the question that asked subjects whether they hallucinated or whether a phone actually rang does not allow for a veridical response, yet the response options that followed clearly do. The complexity of this testing format may have been responsible for the reversal of results in the forced-choice phase of the study. Pseudomemory studies in our laboratory, including the present research, have tested pseudomemory after subjects were "awakened" from hypnosis. Our research, therefore, departs from a number of other pseudomemory studies that establish the acceptance of the suggestion and test for pseudomemory during hypnosis. When subjects accept the target event as veridical during hypnosis, they may feel committed to continue to report posthypnotically that the event occurred in reality in order to fulfill their perceived role as a hypnotic subject (Spanos & Mcl.ean, 1986). It is worth noting that our research should be regarded as an exploratory study. The use of a live interview (following Orne, 1959), instead of a questionnaire, would have provided information regarding why simulators concluded that the hypnotizable subjects would not respond

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to the suggested pseudomemory and have provided information about what variables or processes mediate hypnotized subjects' responses. For example, it is possible that the pseudomemory suggestion was too artificial or simply unconvincing, and therefore did not override subjects' certainty that they did not hear a phone ring. Other limitations include the failure to confirm subjects' hypnotizability status and the nontraditional use of the simulation design in a group setting, which perhaps compromised simulators' motivation to decipher demand characteristics. Because we did not manipulate age regression experimentally, the resulting incidence of pseudomemories can only be compared across studies. There are limitations to this approach, given that there are a number of procedural and contextual differences across the studies that constitute the bases of comparisons noted above. Ofcourse this problem is not unique to our research. Designs in which variables relevant to pseudomemory reports are systematically manipulated in the context of a single experiment, as well as programmatic research that compares findings across studies and even pseudomemory paradigms, will help to explicate the complex and multidimensional pseudomemory phenomenon. References Barber, T. X. (1969). Hypnosis: A scientific approach. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. Labelle, L., Laurence, J.-R., Nadon, R., & Perry, C. (1990). Hypnotizability, preference for an imagic cognitive style, and memory creation in hypnosis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 99, 222-228. Laurence, J. R. (1983). Memory creation in hypnosis. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Concordia University, Montreal. Laurence, J. R. & Perry, C. (1983). Hypnoti-

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Pseudomemory and age regression: an exploratory study.

Hypnotizable (N = 9) and simulating subjects (N = 8) were age regressed to the previous week's hypnosis session and received a suggestion to hear a ph...
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