Is hypnosis a placebo effect or actual changes are occurring in the brain?

In this old question, the answer seems to be the latter, according to a new scientific study. This is the first study that specifically aimed to show what happens in the brain during the hypnotic state.

The researchers, led by Dr. David Spiegel, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California, who made the publication in the neuroscience journal Cerebral Cortex, studied the brain of 57 study participants – 36 who were highly hypnotizable and 21 who weren’t.

The functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that some vital brain regions operate differently at the hypnotic state, so the effect of the latter is not only in the person’s mind (at least not only), but is also a matter of neurophysiology. Hypnosis, which in the 19th century was used extensively, today is flourishing and is used by doctors and psychotherapists for the treatment of insomnia, phobias, pain, smoking, and other addictions, etc.

“I think we have pretty definitive evidence here that the brain is working differently when a person is in hypnosis,”

said Dr. Spiegel.

This knowledge could help hypnosis shed its reputation as a pseudoscientific slight-of-hand. And it might help researchers develop new hypnosis-based therapies or make it possible to hypnotize people, as the release states:

A treatment that combines brain stimulation with hypnosis could improve the known analgesic effects of hypnosis and potentially replace addictive and side-effect-laden painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs, [Spiegel] said. More research, however, is needed before such a therapy could be implemented.

However, it is certain that not all scientists are about to be convinced from this new study, as many insist that hypnosis is a state created not by biology but by the individual’s expectations and essentially located in the “software” of the mind and not in “material” of the brain. Functional imaging is a blunt instrument and the findings can be difficult to interpret, especially when a study is looking at activity levels in many brain areas.

Still, Dr. Spiegel highlighted that the findings might help explain the intense absorption, lack of self-consciousness and suggestibility that characterize the hypnotic state.

References:

  1. Typosthes
  2. New York Times
  3. Scope – Standford Medicine

In this cool infographic there’s a list of nine hobbies that will keep you neurologically stimulated and mentally healthy.

Finding time for yourself can be nearly impossible sometimes.

Balancing your professional, social, and family life probably leave you feeling the need just to collapse from exhaustion at the end of the day.

Trying to find the time to keep your mind sharp amid all the chaos while also trying to maintain your personal sanity is a difficult balance to strike.

This is especially true if your free time comes in small increments throughout the day. It can sometimes feel as though you have to choose between making yourself smarter and making yourself happier.

Lucky for you, research shows that several hobbies have the potential to ‘kill two birds with one stone’.

Take reading for example (the activity you are doing RIGHT NOW). Reading is perhaps the most obvious example of a hobby that can be both relaxing and mentally beneficial.

A study published in the Neurology Journal regarding cognitive aging and cognitive activity concluded:

More frequent cognitive activity across the life span has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline that is independent of common neuropathologic conditions…

So essentially, the more you use your brain, the less you lose it later in life.

Thankfully, hobbies like reading and writing have never been easier to do no matter where you are.

Between e-books, magazine articles, news feeds, and blogs there is never a shortage of content for you to choose.

If you have a few minutes where you are stuck waiting in a line, you can pull out your phone and begin reading while you wait.

Choosing a hobby that expands your intellect while also providing you with a much-needed leisure activity maximizes the limited time you have available.

The folks at Smarter Hobby created the infographic below which is a list of nine hobbies that will help keep you neurologically stimulated and mentally healthy.

Whatever your preferences are, it is important that you choose an activity that you both enjoy and fits into your hectic life.

An infographic with hobbies that can make you smarter

Well, what hobbies you pick? Let us know in the comments!

Where does fatigue come from?

It doesn’t come from the body. Even when people exercise to exhaustion, studies have shown that there is fuel left in the tank – one found there was enough energy left in muscle tissue for participants to have kept going for another seven or eight minutes. The brain puts the brakes on, stepping in to stop us from over-exerting and injuring ourselves long before we reach our actual limits.

According to the latest research, our physical endurance is determined by our “perception of effort” – how much work the brain thinks that the body has done. But the brain can be tricked. In Brazil, a group of scientists improved power output in cyclists by 10% by running a small electric current through the brain. Elsewhere, it has been shown that giving athletes incorrect information about the temperature can help them maintain their performance in hot conditions, and that lying to them about their split times can help them break personal bests.

In one study, Professor Samuele Marcora and colleagues asked people to pedal an exercise bike at a fixed pace for as long as possible. Unbeknown to the participants, a screen in front of them was flashing up subliminal images for 1/16th of a second at a time. Cyclists flashed images of sad faces rode for 22 minutes and 22 seconds on average. Those shown happy faces reported less perceived exertion, and rode for three minutes longer. Marcora now wants to develop a pair of goggles that could flash up this kind of image at athletes while they are out training.

Forcing ourselves to keep going also means ignoring all the signals from our body telling us to stop. This “response inhibition” is very mentally taxing, and it causes a substance called adenosine to build up in the brain. Adenosine is associated with the feeling of mental fatigue – it builds up when people run marathons or work on boring spreadsheets, or if they haven’t had enough sleep. Adenosine increases perception of effort. It is the enemy of endurance.

Mo Farah drinks a couple of espressos before a race, to reduce mental fatigue.

Caffeine blocks adenosine. This is why Mo Farah drinks a couple of espressos before a race, and why caffeine pills and gum have become an essential part of the long-distance runner’s pre-race preparation. You can also train your brain, by doing monotonous response- inhibition tasks before or during exercise. In the short term, this will make your performance worse, but in the long run your brain will learn to produce less adenosine, which will reduce perception of effort and increase endurance.

In one study, Marcora asked two groups of soldiers to do a time-to-exhaustion test, where they were asked to ride at a fixed percentage of their maximum until they couldn’t any more. After 12 weeks of training the control group’s time-to-exhaustion had improved by 42%. The other group performed a mentally fatiguing task alongside their physical training sessions. Their time to exhaustion improved by 115%.

Auditory versions of these tasks for smartphones are in the works, but you can replicate the effect simply by changing your training patterns. For your brain, running five miles after a hard day’s work feels like the last five miles of a much longer run. It offers a much better workout for your willpower. It’s mind over matter, and fortunately for athletes – from the elite to the amateur – the mind is much easier to manipulate.

This article was originally posted at The Guardian.

Photo credits: occoquanbayperformance.com

About the author

Amit Katwala is the author of The Athletic Brain out on 11 August. To order a copy, go to bookshop.theguardian.com.

Did you know that the words literally change your brain?

Words are powerful. So much that a single word can cause irreparable damage. On the other hand, words can heal wounds from decades before. What we speak can work both sides of the coin, you see, and so words should never be dished out haphazardly. We underestimate the power of words, really we do.

Honestly, it goes a little deeper than that. Words can, over time, make a physical change as well. Words can change your brain, changing physical regions of the mind and widening pathways of information! Bet you didn’t know that, now did you?

So there are positive words and negative words, each with a monumental power to change your entire life. Whether you fail epically or succeed in the same manner is all up to which words you choose to say. Let’s talk about these opposite influences for a moment, shall we.

First, let’s talk about positive words

It’s not always easy to be positive or think positive, but when you do, you may notice how different you feel afterwards? You might feel energized, hopeful and even more sociable toward others. Even when the situation isn’t savory, being positive can help keep your focus on a logical solution. Being positive actually looks beyond the present situation even when life isn’t going so well and it helps you look at the bigger picture.

Words of this nature help to breed respect, active listening and problem solving, all of which are imperative to making proper decisions. Positive words can increase cognitive reasoning and areas in the frontal lobe can become stronger. Positive words are also responsible for activating motivational regions of the brain. See, there are many changes which occur according to what you say.

Negative words change your brain too

Unfortunately, the world is more familiar with negative words. Stress from day to day life causes us to sometimes lose sight of the end goal and we bend to our weaknesses. We are changed by these negative emotions in ways we could never imagine. Like positive words, negative statements have the power to alter our physical mind.

Words spoken in a negative manner block neurochemicals which normally provide stress management. For instance, the amygdala (the fear center), has an increase in activity due to an increase in these stress hormones. These hormones block the reasoning process which usually keeps us functioning normally.

In the book, Words can change your Brain, by Andrew Newburg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman one sentence says it all.

A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.

Now that you have an idea how words can change your brain, let’s use our positive thinking to look at that big picture I spoke of earlier. Words not only cause transformations; they cause permanent changes which leave deep imprints on the brain’s structures -these imprints can widen the neural pathways.

Neural pathways are where our thoughts travel. If you want to understand what these pathways are, then picture highways, roads or dirt paths. Since we know that neuroplasticity allows changes in the brain according to life experiences, neural pathways can absorb the same changes and form according to the imprint. So that leads back to repetition. Anything done over and over will surely have a lasting effect on the human mind.

Aristotle says,

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

I could say so much more, but I think you’ve got the picture. You must pay attention to what you say because your words determine everything you will ever experience. Yes, it depends on you! Choose your words carefully and create thought habits that will prove beneficial for your brain. After all, we are what we say we are.

References:

Is it actually true that we can form a new habit in just 21 days?

Everyone knows about the “power of habit.” Whatever we do or think, is dominated by the firing of our brain synapses between neurons (brain cells) that “lead” communication within the brain. When a behavior, action or any pattern repeats continuously, a network of neurons created on the specific (or thought or action patterns).

As a result, these firings make the behaviors seem “natural”. For example, the move-set of morning awakening (eg. tooth brushing-coffee-cigarette), is practically instinctive, automatic. One action triggers the next.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, in the 1950s began to observe a strange pattern among his patients. When he would perform an operation – like a nose job, for example – he found that they needed about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Maltz noticed that the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation.

These observations led Maltz to think about his own period to adapt to changes and new behaviors, and he noticed that it also took himself about 21 days to create a new habit. Maltz wrote about these experiences and said “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

At 1960, Maltz published this quote and other thoughts on the behavior change in his book Psycho-Cybernetics. The book went on to become blockbuster best-seller, selling over 30 million copies.

At the following decades, through various self-help “gurus”, the people started to forget that Maltz said “a minimum of about 21 days” and shortened it to “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”

So, what is the answer?

 

How Long Does it Take to Develop a New Habit?

Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit.

The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt.

Some people chose simple habits like drinking a bottle of water with lunch. Others chose more difficult tasks like running for 15 minutes before dinner or do 50 sit-ups after the morning coffee. At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it.

The answer was that, on average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.*

In other words, if you want to create a new behavior, it will probably take you from two months to eight months

Another interesting point that researchers found, is that not performing the behavior always, ie if lost some days, do not substantially affect the process of habit formation.

How to Manage the Formation of New Habits

Let’s see how to handle the issue of forming new habits, to not get discouraged:

First, there is no reason to give up if you try to do something new and see that it doesn’t become a habit within the first weeks. As mentioned, supposedly gets more. Prefer the slow and long path and focus on repetition.

Second, it’s not necessary to be perfect. Making a mistake or missing 2-3 days has no measurable impact on long-term results.

Third, prefer longer timeframes. Developing new habits is a process, not an event. You should like the whole process and embrace it. this will help you to commit yourself making small incremental improvements.

In conclusion, if a behavior is repeated often enough and for a long time, these neural pathways will increasingly grow and form your new habit! The human brain is a very adaptive “machine”. All brains are different, and the formation of new habits based on aspects of the experience and personality of the individual.

*Even though the study only ran for 12 weeks, the researchers were able to use the data to estimate the longer timelines (like 254 days) to form habits.

References:

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/form-a-habit.htm

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/02/how-long-it-takes-to-form-a-new-habit/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-clear/forming-new-habits_b_5104807.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/