No justice in hypnosis

After witnessing a disturbing growth in the use of hypnotism in society, it is encouraging to see the trend being resisted. The latest sign of challenge to this technique of mental manipulation comes from the state of New York where the highest court has ruled hypnosis to be an unreliable tool in the courtroom.

The public should be alert to the court's conclusion: Even if safeguards are taken, hypnosis tends to produce ''a mixture of accurate recall, fantasy or pure fabrication in unknown quantities.'' Said the judge of the New York Court of Appeals: ''No procedures have yet been devised for eliminating the common risk that the subject himself is more likely to confabulate [create memory] or fantasize to fill in gaps in his memory as a result of the hypnotic process.''

The decision does not rule out use of hypnosis by the police in the conduct of investigations. But it does bar hynpotically induced testimony in a trial. Other states, including California and New Jersey, have also had second thoughts about the value of such testimony and banned or limited it. It can be hoped that, as the harmfulness and unreliability of hypnosis become more fully known, the bandwagon of judicial opposition will grow.

Not only judges and law-enforcement officials need to weigh the dangers, however. Once looked on as mainly a fad, hypnosis has invaded the everyday world of classrooms, business management, and health care. Not to mention the hypnotic techniques employed in television advertising. Individuals should ever be on guard against any effort, overt or subtle, to tamper with or influence the human mentality. Much has yet to be generally understood about the workings of consciousness but there is vast evidence that a subject put in a sleep-like condition is vulnerable to accidental or purposeful suggestibility.

Why does anyone want to open his mind to someone else's suggestions and manipulation, however benignly motivated? A person's mentality is his most precious asset and he is wise to keep scrupulous control of it.

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