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.