Hypnotic Trance Changes Brain Patterns and Activity

Hypnosis is a change of state, there must also be some type of change in the brain and brain patterns. And there must be a way of seeing this change too.

In 2016, Spiegel and a team of researchers decided to prove their suspicions.

Spiegel’s Study: Brain Activity And Functional Connectivity Associated With Hypnosis

Hypnosis works

The purpose of the study was to try to identify changes in brain activity during the hypnotic state.

According to the study’s abstract, the team knew that hypnosis was associated with “decreased default mode network (DMN) activity,” and that people who were highly hypnotizable showed “greater functional connectivity between the executive control network (ECN) and the salience network (SN).”

From a group of 547 people, Spiegel and his colleagues chose 57 subjects – 36 with high hypnotizability and 21 with low hypnotizability.

Both groups were subjected to a series of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans under the same 4 conditions:

  • while resting
  • when recalling a memory; and
  • during two different hypnosis experiences guided by pre-recorded instructions

The results were fascinating.

Researchers noticed that 3 things were happening.

  1. A drop in activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate. This is a part of the brain that’s stimulated when you’re worried about something but tends to be less active during hypnosis. In hypnosis, then, highly-hypnotizable people are more relaxed and more worry-free.
  2. An increase in connectivity between certain areas of the brain, specifically the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or DLPFC (a part of the brain responsible for planning and organization) and the insula (a part of the brain designed to help regulate body functions).According to Spiegel, this shows that under hypnosis there is a stronger connection being established between the brain and the body.
  3. A decrease in connectivity between certain areas of the brain, this time between the DLPCF and part of the brain concerned with self-reflection.Spiegel explains that, during hypnosis, self-reflection seems less important. People are less inhibited and will do silly or embarrassing things – such as in a stage hypnosis show – without thinking about it.

These changes help to demonstrate how it is possible for highly-hypnotizable people to feel less stress, less pain, and less anxiety while in hypnosis.

Spiegel’s own research has shown how effective self-hypnosis can be in the control of pain, where highly-hypnotizable people are able to cope with half the amount of medication while experiencing only half the amount of pain.


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