AUG 02, 2016 07:48 AM PDT

The Hypnotized Brain Looks Different to Neurobiologists

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Skeptics tend to regard hypnosis as deceptive magic acts. At its worst, hypnosis may be entirely staged with apparent "volunteers" eager to show off their acting skills. At its best, however, people can actually be induced to go into a trance-like state where they're more susceptible to suggestions. And it's not an illusion either - neuroscientists now say they've acquired brain data that confirm hypnosis actually alters the brain.

By scanning the brains of people that were deemed to be highly susceptible to hypnosis, Stanford researchers found striking differences in the brain. In particular, the brain showed altered activity levels for when the participants were under a hypnotic state versus when they were resting and versus when they were recalling a memory. Furthermore, the changes weren't detected in people deemed to have low hypnosis susceptibility.

"I hope this study will demonstrate that hypnosis is a real neurobiological phenomenon that deserves attention," said Dr. David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and senior study author. "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."

This is good news that adds additional credit to cognitive therapies that use hypnosis as part of the treatment to help patients overcome addiction behaviors or other emotional traumas.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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