Can posthypnotic suggestion (PHS) enhance cognitive abilities? The authors tested behaviorally and with event-related potentials (ERP) if sequential learning (SL), the ability to learn statistical regularities, can be enhanced with PHS. Thirty adults were assessed with the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (Form C) and an auditory SL task. Before this task, half the sample received a PHS to enhance SL, and the other half received the same suggestion under normal waking state. Response times and ERPs indicated a strong effect of PHS. Compared to the control group, PHS inverted, attenuated, or left unaffected the response time SL effect in low, medium, and high hypnotizability participants, respectively. These results suggest that PHS cannot be used to enhance SL.
Some highly hypnotizable individuals have reported changes in objects’ color with suggestions given in normal waking state. However, it is not clear whether this occurs only in their imagination. The authors show that although subjects could imagine colors, a posthypnotic suggestion was necessary for seeing altered colors, even for a hypnotic virtuoso. She reported posthypnotic color alterations also selectively in response to specific target shapes in briefly presented object arrays. Surprisingly, another highly hypnotizable person showed a very different pattern of results. The control participants could not simulate virtuosos’ results by applying cognitive strategies. The results imply that hypnosis can alter the functioning of automatic visual processes but only in some of the most hypnotizable individuals.