Is Hypnosis All In Your Head?
"Brain Scan Suggests Otherwise" according to an article by Erica Goode appearing in the New York Times on July 30, 2016.
Hypnosis has become a common medical tool, used to reduce pain, help people stop smoking and relieve phobias. Scientists have long argued about whether the hypnotic “trance” is a separate neurophysiological state or simply a product of a hypnotized person’s expectations.
A study published by Stanford researchers offers some evidence for the first explanation, finding that some parts of the brain function differently under hypnosis than during normal consciousness. The study was conducted using MRI scans. It found changes in activity in brain areas that are thought to be involved in focused attention, the monitoring and control of the body’s functioning, and the awareness and evaluation of a person’s internal and external environments. “I think we have pretty definitive evidence here that the brain is working differently when a person is in hypnosis,” said Dr. David Spiegel, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford who has studied the effectiveness of hypnosis.
While in the hypnotic state, individuals experience an intense absorption, lack of self-consciousness and varying levels of suggestibility. Dr. Spiegel said one particularly intriguing finding was that hypnotized subjects showed decreased interaction between a region deep in the brain that is active in self-reflection and daydreaming and areas of the prefrontal cortex involved in planning and executing tasks. That decreased interaction, Dr. Spiegel said, suggested an explanation for the lack of self-consciousness shown by hypnotized subjects. “That’s why the stage hypnotist can get a football coach to dance like a ballerina without feeling self-conscious about what he’s doing,” Dr. Spiegel said. He added that it might also explain, at least in part, why hypnosis is an effective tool used for getting people to look at a problem in a new way.
While some researchers argue that hypnosis is a state produced by people’s expectations, not by biology, it is evident that hypnosis is a valuable tool in facilitating change in people's lives.