New Study Reveals Why Some People Do Not Respond Well to Hypnosis

By Lisa Franchi on October 05, 2012

Many people ask – does hypnosis really work? The answer is yes – it does. However, this therapy may not work for everyone and a new study explains why.

Hypnosis is a popular therapy that is clinically used to address certain mental and behavioural disorders such as phobia, pain, anxiety issues, and stress. During the treatment, the patient is put under a trance or a state of sleep. The therapy works by modulating some brain regions linked to focus and attention.

In trance, the brain has very high level of concentration. The therapist then takes this opportunity to instil positive suggestions which seek to reform some of the negative thoughts or emotions affecting the person’s behaviour.

In an effort to better understand the underlying mechanisms behind hypnosis and how it can be effectively used in clinical settings, researchers from Stanford University studied how certain areas in the brain tend to have less activity in people who do not respond well with the therapy. 

Hypnotisability not Affected by Personality Traits

Dr David Spiegel, the senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences in the University estimates that a quarter of the patients he saw could not be hypnotised. However, a person’s response to hypnosis is not affected by any specific personality trait, he said. He believed that it must have something to do with what’s going on in the brain.

Using functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging procedure, Spiegel and his team looked at the association between certain regions in the brain of some patients who had low hypnotisability.

For their study, the researchers recruited 12 adults who did not respond well to the therapy. Through the MRI, they looked at three different networks in the brain – the default mode network which is active when the brain is idle, the executive-control network which is used when a person makes decisions, and the salience network which is involved in deciding something is more important than something else.

As compared to the brain of highly hypnotisable people, the brain of those who could not be hypnotised appeared to have less functional connectivity between the salience network and the executive-control network. During hypnosis, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a component of the executive-control network, is activated along with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex – a part of the salience network. As a result, the person heightens his or her level of attention. But with those with low hypnotisability, this rarely happens.

Their study, according to Spiegel, confirms that hypnotisability is not affected by personality traits but more on the cognitive function particularly between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Currently, the researchers are preparing for another study which seeks to explore how the three cognitive networks change during the state of trance.

Their findings were published in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.


Source of this article:

Functional Brain Basis of Hypnotisability, Archives of General Psychiatry

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