In the past few years, I have written and give numerous reasons why I think hypnotherapists should not be treating the notion of a subconscious/unconscious mind like it is a fact, or like it even exists at all. I am not going to repeat those points or discussions, but you can revisit some of my older posts on the subject here, they are all relevant to today’s article:

1. Should We All Just Trust Our Unconscious Mind? Is It Ok To Have Undefined, Unclear goals In Hypnotherapy?

2. Are Your Gut Feelings Actually An All Seeing Eye? A Demi God Of Some Sort?

3. Is There Such a Thing As An Unconscious Mind In Hypnosis?

And I’d strongly recommend reading this thread where the subject is discussed in depth by many at my hypnosis hub: Is There an Unconscious Mind?

Moving onto today though…..

My weekly book this week was the brilliant book Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) by Nobel prize winning psychologist and prolific researcher Daniel Kahneman. I am not a book reviewer and could not possibly exhaust the content of such an expansive text in a single blog article here, but it got me thinking well beyond the content of the book itself and got me more convinced than ever that the notion of an unconscious mind used by hypnotherapists is not just outdated, lacking in evidence and shunned completely by academics and scholars of hypnosis, it is actually potentially problematic to therapeutic outcomes to explain hypnosis referencing “an unconscious mind that is perceived as all-wise and all-knowing.” I’ll explain just one reason why this book and the vast amount of research in it confirmed that with me.

Though so much in the research could be disseminated to encourage abandoning the notion of an unconscious mind, there is one particular notion with a wide variety of elements that I wanted to highlight today; cognitive bias.

Cognitive bias refers to a way people tend to simplify reality and make sense of the world. We often tend to take the easiest or simplest option in an automatic fashion, to make decisions with speed. We often trust this automatic intuition or instinct like it is truth and all-wise, yet our judgments and decisions when made this way are often riddled with errors and influenced heavily by a range of biases. Likewise, many models of hypnosis and prominent authors continue to refer to an unconscious mind like it is a ‘thing’ that actually exists, and that it should be trusted.

When we are forming judgments and making decisions about the world around us, at times we might like to think that we are being objective, rational, and capable of taking in and evaluating all the information available to us. We may think we are capable of thinking critically. However, sometimes our instincts can and do lead us in the wrong direction; but in what direction, and for how long, can be hard to fathom.

As we all know within the field of hypnosis, the human brain is a marvel to behold, it is wondrous and fantastical, powerful and flexible, but it is also certainly subject to limitations. One fundamental limitation of human thinking is known as a cognitive bias.

As I have already briefly mentioned, a cognitive bias is a certain pervasive thinking habit which is likely to threaten objectivity or to lead to errors in reasoning. It can be viewed as a flaw in judgment that arises from memory errors, social attribution, or statistical errors, for example. Although, cognitive biases are something most of us may find impossible to completely avoid, once you know how to spot these biases, you see them all around you and can think critically regarding them.

The field of behavioural psychology has demonstrated that us Homo sapiens are actually a seemingly irrational species that often think and behave in senseless rather than sensible ways. There are a number of different things that contribute to a veritable list of cognitive biases. Heuristics, one type of mental shortcuts, can often lead to such errors. Social pressures, emotional motivations, and limits on the mind’s ability to process information can also contribute to these biases. Heck, hypnotherapists with good training know about cognitive distortions, automatic thoughts and thinking errors that can lead to anxiety and depression, well cognitive biases are of a similar ilk, but tend to be less obvious and open to scrutiny.

When cognitive biases influence individuals, real problems such as perceptual blindness or distortion, illogical interpretation, inaccurate judgments, irrationality and bad decisions can arise.

Cognitive biases are not necessarily all bad, and some authors deem them as necessary to function effectively. They allow us to reach decisions quickly, some of these biases serve an adaptive purpose. Psychologists believe that many of these biases helped us survive in primitive times when life was much simpler and speed of decision-making understandably trumped it’s need to be accurate;  this may not be quite as useful in the modern world of today though.

From what you’ll eat throughout the day to whether you are going to make a decision on what career options to pursue, researchers suggest that there are a number of cognitive biases that affect your behaviour in some way, and they can prevent you from acting in your own best interests.
According behavioural and cognitive psychologists, there are literally hundreds of cognitive biases preventing you from achieving your full potential.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

1. Confirmation Bias:

Probably the most well known and commonly cited cognitive bias is the confirmation bias. Humans have a natural bias to confirm their existing beliefs and ignore contradicting data. The effects are often found in business, religion, politics, and even science. We often see this behaviour when someone justifies their position with subjective arguments or with something like, “It’s always been done that way,” versus supporting their position with facts and data. There is some real irony that confirmation bias is particularly prevalent when hypnotherapists attempt to support the notion of the existence of an unconscious mind.

Confirmation Bias causes us to look for, interpret, and recall information in a way that affirms our beliefs instead of paying attention to objective data that contradicts it. For example, if an investor has a good opinion of a company, he might hold on to it’s stock, and overlook the red flags about the company that would cause him to think twice. On the other hand, if he already has prejudices of the stocks of any particular company, his mind will look for information that supports his original idea, and brush aside any positive reviews. So, investors can make a serious blunder falling victim to the confirmation bias.

It’s really hard to change, especially when we’ve believed something to be true for so long. So, the effect is even stronger for deeply entrenched beliefs. If a hypnotherapist has invested a lot of money in a training that taught them that an unconscious mind exists, then they spend time with other professionals using the same notion, it becomes entrenched and very difficult to accept anything else. To regulate the brain you can look at which is great. In the current political climate here in Europe and regarding terrorism and related issues, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with confirmation bias; many people with an inability to look outside of their existing belief systems. Confirmation bias vastly limits our ability to grow and improve, both in our professional and personal lives. We have to consider more possibilities and be more open to alternatives, and examine evidence.

Go and re-read the first paragraph of this article, immediately beneath the list of links I gave at the beginning, I am clearly demonstrating confirmation bias myself there.

2. The Halo Effect:

The halo effect is a natural tendency of people to make specific judgments based on an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, product, or absolutely anything. Psychologist Edward Thorndike first coined the phrase, “The Halo Effect.” He noticed that people make judgements about others based on their perceptions of only one part of that person, and their judgments aren’t really all that accurate. While Halo effect may act as a villain for most of the people, it serves as a blessing for those who know how to impress people.

If you are searching for a job, the halo effect is something that you might choose to harness and use to your advantage. People naturally make judgements about others based solely on subjective qualities, such as, how a person is dressed, how attractive a person is, even how a person smells. In other words, the first impression is often something that all you have got. In an interview, a first impression can be formed with a quick glance of two or three seconds. That impression carries through the entire meeting and can determine whether someone is likely to employ you or find reasons to reject you.

However, the halo effect isn’t something that we are very often consciously aware of; it’s something that causes us to think in a biased fashion when we’re around someone we like, admire, or think is attractive. In fact, some studies have shown that even being aware of the halo effect doesn’t rule out someone from falling victim to it!

3. Negative Bias:

One of the more problematic cognitive biases is Negative Bias. Many people have an intrinsic obsession with negativity. They are affected by negative memories or feelings more than positive ones. This bias can influence people greatly.

For example, the media pretty much always focuses on negative news rather than anything positive. Fear creates interest, gets viewers and sells newspapers. Any kind of tragedy or devastation dominate the news headlines most of the time and draws the attention of people.

Would you suggest a therapy client to trust their instincts if they are depressed and filter reality to only see the negative aspects of life? Would you offer up a notion that their ‘unconscious mind’ knows what is best for them and that they should trust it? I wouldn’t. For those who are drawn in a negative direction, they need to be shown how to move away from such thinking patterns and bias, surely. They need to be instructed and educated about ways to think critically and clearly and to shake off such rigid patterns of automatic thoughts that are happening unconsciously.

4. Bandwagon Effect:

This bias states that people do or believe what others do or believe despite evidence to the contrary. People like to follow trends and go with the flow of consensus. It is believed that social pressure is one the main reasons of such a Bandwagon Effect.

For example, people like to use a consumer product which is used by many other consumers (especially one promoted by a celebrity or sports star they look up to), or wear clothes that fit in with what the majority of people are wearing.  Often more products get sold following a launch simply on the back of others buying it.

The notion of people having an unconscious mind has become very popular and is fuelled by these four cognitive biases in particular. The notion breeds in groups of people thinking the same thing and not permitting it to be challenged. In fact, there are large sections of the field of hypnotherapy who will reject anyone with a seemingly dissenting perspective, an evidence-based leaning or any kind of viewpoint that does not match their own. Many reading this very article will spend the whole time looking for ways to dispute it rather than ways to dispute (or at least question) their own beliefs. They will simply fall prey to cognitive bias.

People who are creative, capable of critical, objective and independent thinking can throw off cognitive bias.

Unfortunately, there is no magic antidote that will inoculate us from such cognitive biases all of the time. We can diminish their power by understanding that such distortions exist, looking out for them in our own thinking and putting effort into countering their influence over us. In other words, just knowing and considering these universal biases will make us less likely to fall victim to them.

Evidence shows that we do things unconsciously. We absolutely do (doing things unconsciously is very different to having an unconscious mind). Trusting the things we do unconsciously can lead us to make grave errors such as those illustrated here today. Beyond the fact that there is no evidence that a separate entity of an unconscious mind exists, many hypnotherapists in particular characterise the unconscious mind as being something filled with wisdom that knows what is best for us, and tell clients to trust it. Yet to trust our instincts, intuition, automatic thoughts, gut feelings or an ‘unconscious mind’ unquestionably, is leading the client to more potential error and even potentially leading them to simply perpetuate more of the problematic thinking and feeling that is causing the therapeutic issue in the first place – teach them to think critically, to intelligently reason instead.

Those who have trained as hypnotherapists with me at my college or experienced hypnotherapy, coaching or motoring with me one-to-one know that this is central to an evidence-based approach to hypnotherapy.

For those wishing to know more, do go and search for information of cognitive biases and here is a lovely infographic taken from UK Business Insider website to get you started:

This infographic originated at the UK Business Insider website here:

This infographic originated at the UK Business Insider website here.


If you’d like to learn more or if this has resonated with you in some way, then visit these pages:

1. Has poor thinking or cognitive bias held you back and/or is it still doing so now?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or  Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason.
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others to think more effectively? Are you a hypnotherapist seeking stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist for whom a negative thought process is detrimentally effecting the success of your business?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.

Self-hypnosis is a great way to help advance positive thinking. If you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar.