Hypnosis is a tricky subject – there are believers, non-believers and those not sure what to believe. Ancient records from China and India reveal that hypnosis was used as a way to obtain relief from pain during a time before anesthetics were available. While largely rejected by medical researchers as a valid alternative to anesthesia, scientific experiments have shown that hypnosis does indeed affect parts of the brain. Essentially a process to induce a deep state of relaxation among patients, hypnosis can slightly alter the way we react to suggestions. Not really as extravagant as magicians and movies would have you believe, hypnosis really can change how you behave.
What does hypnosis do to the brain?
Cornell University’s Medical School did a study on hypnosis that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers conducted tests on a group of sixteen young adults where their brain was scanned while they were under the influence of hypnosis. The participants were asked to identify the color of a word on the screen of a computer. The words on the screen were based on colors that were not the same as the color of the word. The test group that was hypnotized was given the suggestion that they would be able to complete the test effectively and not take too much time. In a test to see how hypnotized and non-hypnotized people reacted to the test, those that were not hypnotized took at least 10% longer to answer the questions.
Hypnosis creates a state of awareness where people tend to become passive observers of their life. They can create powerful imagery that alters their behavior and creates a powerful sense of self-awareness. In 2004, researchers from the University of Iowa, Roy J, Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and Technical University of Aachen in Germany used functional magnetic resonance imaging to see if hypnosis affects the brain. The condition they were working to see was whether hypnosis specifically affects pain sensitivity in the brain. They found that participants who were hypnotized experienced less of a reaction when exposed to painful heat.
The brain activities in these individuals were also different to when they were not hypnotized and experienced that same pain. Research findings suggest that hypnosis can play a key role in blocking that part of the brain that receives pain signals. A study at the University of Virginia in 2004 showed that the brains of people who were more susceptible to hypnosis had structural differences in their brains. The people who could be more easily hypnotized tended to have larger rostrums, an average of 31.8% bigger. The rostrum is that part of the brain that works to determine attention and move information between the pre-frontal cortices.
Hypnosis does affect the brain, but there is a degree of difference between media portrayal and the real thing. Hypnotherapy has accepted the ability of hypnosis to help patients recover. There is much yet to be discovered about hypnosis, but as trend that has been in use since ancient times, hypnosis can be used to induce positive benefits in people.