Research Article: The Impact of Hypnotic Suggestions on Reaction Times in Continuous Performance Test in Adults with ADHD and Healthy Controls

Date Published: May 11, 2015

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Maarit Virta, Seppo Hiltunen, Markus Mattsson, Sakari Kallio, Daisuke Nishi.


Attention is one of the key factors in both hypnotic processes and patients with ADHD. In addition, the brain areas associated with hypnosis and ADHD overlap in many respects. However, the use of hypnosis in ADHD patients has still received only minor attention in research. The main purpose of the present work was to investigate whether hypnosis and hypnotic suggestions influence the performance of adult ADHD (n = 27) and control participants (n = 31) in the continuous performance test (CPT). The hypnotic susceptibility of the participants was measured by the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility (HGSHS:A) and the attentional task was a three minute long auditory version of the CPT. The CPT task was administered four times: before hypnosis (CPT1), after a hypnotic induction (CPT2), after suggestions about speed and accuracy (CPT3), and after the termination of hypnosis (CPT4). The susceptibility of the groups measured by HGSHS:A did not differ. There was a statistically significant decrease in reaction times in both ADHD and control groups between CPT2 and CPT3. The differences between CPT1 and CPT2, even though non-significant, were different in the two groups: in the ADHD group reaction times decreased whereas in the control group they increased. Both groups made very few errors in the short CPT. This study indicates that hypnotic suggestions have an effect on reaction times in the sustained attention task both in adult ADHD patients and control subjects. The theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.

Partial Text

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental neurobiological disability characterized by deficits in attention and executive functions and/or symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity [1]. It emerges in childhood and often continues into adulthood. The prevalence of ADHD in adults has been estimated to be 4.4% [2]. Current research suggests that there are alterations in structure and dysfunction in activity in multiple neuronal systems and networks [3–5]. In particular, a decrease in total cerebral and cerebellar volume is found. The dysfunctional areas include anterior cingulate cortex, frontostriatal circuitry, cerebellum, temporoparietal lobes, basal ganglia, thalamus, amygdala, hippocampus and corpus callosum (for review see e.g. [4–6]). There is evidence about alterations in activity in attention networks [3,7,8], default mode network [3,7,8], salience network [7], sensorimotor systems [3], affective network [8] and executive control network [7], and dysconnectivity of default mode network [9].

The main purpose of this study was to investigate whether hypnosis and hypnotic suggestions influence the performance of ADHD and control participants in the continuous performance task and whether the effect is different in the two groups. There was a decrease in reaction times in both groups between neutral hypnosis and hypnosis with suggestion conditions. The performance profiles of the two groups, however, differed.

This study indicates that hypnotic suggestions have an influence on the reaction times in a sustained attention task. This effect was found in both adults with ADHD and normal control participants. However, this result has to be verified in further studies also with non-hypnotic suggestions. This study, together with the pilot study of hypnotherapy in adults with ADHD [49,60], suggests that with hypnosis and hypnotherapy it is possible to influence the problems on ADHD adults.