Time and again, we hear the question, what is hypnosis really and is it even real? A brain signature of being hypnotized was first seen in 2012 through functional MRI (fMRI), a kind of MRI showing brain activity with respect to changes in blood flow. Parts of the brain connected with executive control and attention were proven to have a role.
More specifically, hypnotized subjects showed more co-activation between components of the executive-control network (handles basic cognitive processes) and the salience network (decides which stimuli deserve attention). In their brains, these two networks reacted together. In those who were not hypnotized, no such connectivity was seen.
What placed these experiments in a higher league is that researchers used fMRI to know which areas of brain were activated when the subjects were analyzing colors. The color areas in both left and right hemispheres reacted when the subjects were told to look at colors. The scientists concluded that hypnosis is indeed an independent psychological state and surely not the outcome of adopting a role.
Another newsworthy observation from such experiments were the variations between the hypnotized and non-hypnotized brain. When non-hypnotized subjects were instructed to perceive colors on a greyscale photograph, only right hemisphere was triggered. The left hemisphere, which deals with reason and logic, only responded under hypnosis.
Another research used positron-emission tomography (PET) to look into cerebral blood flow in hypnotized subjects. The hypnotic state was connected with activation of a lot of mostly left-sided cortical areas and some right-sided regions.
The trend of activation shared a lot of similarities with mental imagery, from which it showed differences by the relative deactivation of the precuneus (handles visuo-spatial imagery, episodic memory retrieval and self-processing operations of the brain). The trend of activation had plenty of similarities with mental imagery, from which it proved different by the relative deactivation of the precuneus, the part of the brain that takes care of the brain’s visuo-spatial imagery, episodic memory retrieval and self-processing operations. For certain scholars, hypnotized subjects simply activate to a large extent, the parts of the brain used in imagination, but don’t cause any real perceptual changes.
Another functional MRI study displayed minimized activity in both anterior cingulate cortex (affects emotions, memory and learning) and visual areas during hypnosis. The results suggest that hypnosis influences cognitive control by limiting activity in specific brain regions.
In many studies, hypnotizable subjects displayed considerably more brain activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus, which impacts behavior and emotions, in comparison to participants who were not hypnotized. The anterior cingulate gyrus reacts errors and assesses emotional results. Prefrontal cortex is connected with higher level cognitive processing and behavior.
Comparison of findings from various studies also show rather contradictory outcomes. Many sections of the brain seem to be activated in different studies. This could be related to multiple experimental techniques, both in terms of equipment and hypnotic approach used in the experiments.
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