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Researchers Take a Peek on the Brain of a Hypnotized Person

Jul 29, 2016 09:21 AM EDT
A new study identified part of the brain that have changhes in their activity and connectivity during hypnotism.
(Photo : David McNew/Getty Images)

Researchers from the Stanford University have identified changes in a few specific parts of the brain that alters the sensation of the mind and body during hypnotic trance.

Their study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, showed that the activity and connectivity in distinct regions of brain are being altered when someone is under hypnotism. This discovery could lead to a better understanding in the use of hypnotism in helping the brain in healing medical and psychiatric conditions.

"Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it's been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes," said David Spiegel, MD, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical Center and senior author of the study, in a statement. "In fact, it's a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies."

For the study, the researchers 545 healthy participants to determine if they are highly hypnotizable or not. Of those, 36 people scored consistently high on hypnotizability test. The researchers also included 21 people who scored on the extreme low end of the scales to serve as the control subjects.

The brain of each participant were observed using functional magnetic resonance imaging under four different conditions: while resting, while recalling a memory and during two different hypnosis sessions.

The researchers discovered three hallmarks of the brain under hypnosis. First, the researchers observed decrease in activity in an area called dorsal anterior cingulate. Secondly, the researchers saw an increase in connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the insula. The researchers called this as the brain-body connection, which helps the brain process and control what's going on in the body.

Lastly, the researchers noted a decrease in connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the default mode network, which includes the medial prefrontal and the posterior cingulate cortex. The decrease in the connectivity represents the disconnection between someone's action and their awareness of their action.

The study also revealed that people who are susceptible to hypnotism have a more effective hypnotic to lessen chronic pain, the pain of childbirth and other medical procedures; treating smoking addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder; and easing anxiety or phobias.

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