Research Reports - Improving working memory performance in brain-injured patients using hypnotic suggestion

Brain. 2017 Apr 1;140(4):1100-1106. doi: 10.1093/brain/awx001.

Lindeløv JK(1,)(2), Overgaard R(2), Overgaard M(2).

Working memory impairment is prevalent in brain injured patients across lesion
aetiologies and severities. Unfortunately, rehabilitation efforts for this
impairment have hitherto yielded small or no effects. Here we show in a
randomized actively controlled trial that working memory performance can be
effectively restored by suggesting to hypnotized patients that they have regained
their pre-injury level of working memory functioning. Following four 1-h
sessions, 27 patients had a medium-sized improvement relative to 22 active
controls (Bayes factors of 342 and 37.5 on the two aggregate outcome measures)
and a very large improvement relative to 19 passive controls (Bayes factor = 1.7
× 1013). This was a long-term effect as revealed by no deterioration following a
6.7 week no-contact period (Bayes factors = 7.1 and 1.3 in favour of no change).
To control for participant-specific effects, the active control group was crossed
over to the working memory suggestion and showed superior improvement. By the end
of the study, both groups reached a performance level at or above the healthy
population mean with standardized mean differences between 1.55 and 2.03 relative
to the passive control group. We conclude that, if framed correctly, hypnotic
suggestion can effectively improve working memory following acquired brain
injury. The speed and consistency with which this improvement occurred, indicate
that there may be a residual capacity for normal information processing in the
injured brain. 

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