Brain Activity and Functional Connectivity Associated with Hypnosis

Hypnosis has proven clinical utility, yet changes in brain activity underlying the hypnotic state have not yet been fully identified. Hypnosis, or trance, is an altered state of mind in which a person is highly responsive to suggestion. While in trance, a hypnotic subject is focused entirely on certain ideas to the exclusion of all others.Previous research suggests that hypnosis is associated with decreased default mode network (DMN) activity and that high hypnotizability is associated with greater functional connectivity between the executive control network (ECN) and the salience network (SN). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate activity and functional connectivity among these three networks in hypnosis. However, in recent years, advances in cognitive science have found trance to be a natural state, grounded in the principle workings of the mind.

When the brain is affected by hypnosis — a trance-like state with focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness — it faces an extreme reduction in its activities, although simple perception still takes place, according to a new study. The role of hypnosis and related psychotherapeutic techniques are discussed in relation to the anxiety disorders. In particular, anxiety is addressed as a special form of mind/body problem involving reverberating interaction between mental and physical distress.

The history of hypnosis as a therapeutic discipline is reviewed, after which neurobiological evidence of the effect of hypnosis on modulation of perception in the brain. Specific brain regions involved in hypnosis are reviewed, notably the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The importance of hypnotizability as a trait, stable variability in hypnotic responsiveness, is discussed. Analogies between the hypnotic state and dissociative reactions to trauma are presented, and the uses of hypnosis in treating posttraumatic stress disorder, stressful situations, and phobias as well as outcome data are reviewed.

The findings showed that the hypnosis influences specific regions of the brain while it receives a visual stimulus and greatly impairs the brain’s deeper processing operations, such as counting.

For the study, detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, the team looked more closely at the processing of visual stimuli and asked participants to look at a screen which had various symbols, such as a circle or a triangle. They were then given the task of counting a particular symbol. Effects of hypnosis on control of somatic processes are discussed, and then effects of psychosocial support involving Supportive-Expressive Group Therapy and hypnosis on survival time for cancer patients are evaluated. The evidence indicates an important role for hypnosis in managing anxiety disorders and anxiety related to medical illness. At the same time, they were also told to imagine that there was a wooden board in front of their eyes. As a result of the suggested obstruction, the number of counting errors rose significantly, the researchers said.

In the vast majority of these types of studies, researchers noted that hypnosis effects on the brain were most plainly seen in subjects deemed “highly suggestible.” To skeptics (like myself) this means that these “highly suggestible” volunteers were simply the sort of people who believe in wonky things, like hypnosis. So, when they were supposedly hypnotized, they were really under a self-induced placebo effect.

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