Hypnosis can be a powerful way to effect positive change, but how does hypnosis affect your brain? In this blog we will explore how hypnosis changes your levels of brain activation and why this makes hypnotherapy so effective.
When you enter into a trance state your awareness levels change. As your area of focus narrows your level of relaxation deepens. Some people are more aware of the experience of deepening physical relaxation. Others have a heightened awareness of “going inwards” as the external world with its demands and concerns becomes more and more distant. Your own trance experience is as unique as you are, and you can rest assured that your level of trance on any given occasion will be the optimal depth for you at that time.
How does hypnosis affect your brain?
The Stanford Study
In 2016, Heidi Jiang led a study at Stanford School of Medicine to investigate the impact of hypnosis upon brain activation.
The study comprised 36 participants who scored highly in an assessment of hypnotisability and 21 participants whose scores fell within the extremely low range on the same scale. This second group provided a control group to ensure that the results of the study could be wholly attributable to the effects of hypnosis.
Both cohorts experienced the same structure of guided hypnosis sessions which emulated the presentation of anxiety, pain or trauma treatments. During the sessions, participants brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a process that highlights brain activity by monitoring blood flow. Each participant experienced four discrete conditions: two unrelated hypnosis sessions, the experience of recollecting a memory, and the experience of being at rest.
The study demonstrated changes in neural activity solely within the highly hypnotisable group, during the period when they were experiencing hypnosis. The effects were shown to be located within three areas of the brain.
The dorsal anterior cingulate, which is activated by tasks that require continual adjustments to the subject’s attention levels, showed a reduction in activity. This supports the experience of hypnotic subjects who find that when they enter into a state of trance their focus becomes wholly absorbed in the experience to the exclusion of all other stimuli.
In contrast, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which manages an individual’s ability to divide their attention, move between tasks, engage in advance planning and reduce distractions, demonstrated increased activity. This heightened activity level was observed as a two-way interaction with the insula, which is responsible for both emotional understanding and physiological experiences. Working together, these two areas provide a brain/body connection that supports the brain in controlling the processes occurring within the body.
The third area of change showed a reduction in activity levels between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (see above) and the default mode network. the default mode network is an organisation of different brain areas that are activated when an individual is awake and when they are engaged in introspection. This reduction in activity between the two areas creates a separation between an individual’s activity (real or imagined) and their awareness of their actions. Within hypnosis this enables your unconscious mind to more readily accept suggestions and ideas that your rational, emotional and experience based conscious mind might reject.
In conclusion, hypnosis creates changes in the levels of activity within certain areas of your brain. These changes enable you to become deeply absorbed within the trance state whilst also strengthening your mind/body connection. In addition, you find it easier to accept the suggestions made to your unconscious, creative mind. These suggestions can powerfully lead you forwards to achieve the transformation you desire.