Many skeptics consider hypnotism as some sort of a trick, but being hypnotized really does change the way your brain works. According to a recent study conducted by Dr. David Spiegel, the associate chair of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, reveals interesting facts about how the brain changes during hypnosis.
For the hypnosis study, Spiegel and his colleagues chose 57 people to participate. More than half of the participants were highly hypnotic, whereas 21 did not appear to be successfully hypnotized.
“I hope this study will demonstrate that hypnosis is a real neurobiological phenomenon that deserves attention. We haven’t been using our brains as well as we can. It’s like an app on your iPhone you haven’t used before, and it gets your iPhone to do all these cool things you didn’t know it could do.”
During the study, MRIs were used to display the difference in blood flow through the brain. First, a scan was completed while the participants was resting. Next, the MRI scanned their brains while recalling a memory. Lastly, the participants were scanned while being induced into a hypnotic state.
The study reveals that for those who were clearly hypnotized, they showed three distinct changes in the brain that were not present prior to being hypnotized. Those who did not appear to be hypnotized did not show the distinct brain changes, further backing up the fact that the brain does, in fact, change during hypnosis.
What parts of the brain were effected during hypnosis? Dr. Spiegel reports that dorsal anterior cingulate activity decreased during hypnosis. Spiegel describes the function of the dorsal anterior cingulate.
“It helps us compare context and decide what is worth worrying about and what isn’t.”
Also changed during hypnosis is the insula and the dorsal anterior cingulate. According to Dr. Spiegel, the connection between the two increased. Insula is the part of the brain that connects the mind and the body. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex helps a person carry out tasks.
“In hypnosis, we know you can alter things like gastric acid secretion, heart rate, blood pressure and skin conductance. Your brain is very good at controlling what’s going on in your body, and the insula is one of the pathways that does that.”
The other portion of the brain that changes during hypnosis is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex becomes disconnected from the brain’s default mode, which Spiegel believes may be related to a disconnection between a person’s actions and the awareness of those actions, which makes perfect sense during hypnosis. During hypnosis, a person is not self-conscious of his or her actions.
“This is the first time that we’ve shown what’s going on in the brain when a person is hypnotized. This is a natural and normal brain function. It’s a technique that has evolved to enable us to do the routine things routinely, and deeply engage in the things that matter to us.”
Some may wonder why hypnosis doesn’t work on everyone. Stanford Medicine explains why not everyone can be hypnotized in an older study led by Dr. Spiegel. Dr. Spiegel has estimated nearly one-fourth of patients are unable to be hypnotized and he is convinced that the reason has something to do with the brain.
Personality traits have nothing to do with whether a person can be put into a hypnotic-state or not, but cognitive style has everything to do with it. Spiegel describes how the connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex shows less connectivity in those who are unable to be hypnotized.
While studies will likely continue for years to come, Dr. Spiegel and his associates are certainly getting closer to revealing more about something that is not well understood: Hypnosis.
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