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Hypnosis: state of mind or state of brain?

By on September 21, 2014

Hypnosis forums are often the scene of bloody combats between those who think hypnosis is a specific brain state, and those who think hypnosis is merely a state of mind (but without a separately identifiable brain state associated to it).

There are a number of reasons this may be important (other than the egos of the combatants). If hypnosis is simply a state of mind, sometimes described as a ‘social contract’ between the hypnotist and the subject, where the hypnotist pretends to hypnotize and the subject pretends to be hypnotized, then hypnosis is not really able to do anything you couldn’t do simply by ‘pretending’ or acting ‘As If’.

But neuroscience research seems to be moving in the direction that hypnosis (or at east some forms or depths of hypnosis) is a separate unique brain state. If hypnosis represents a separate brain state where the brain begins to function in a unique way then all sorts of possibilities open up. One of the key pieces of research in this respect is the work of Amir Raz and other researchers at McGill University on hypnosis and the Stroop Effect. The Stroop Effect is demonstrated when subjects are asked to state the color of words in a font that is different to the word, such as red or blue. This causes some mental dissonance as the brain automatically reads the word at the same time as it looks at the color. The brain therefore has to sort the word itself from the color of the font, with a corresponding delay in the amount of time it takes to identify the color of the font. Raz and his team shows that hypnosis can turn off the Stroop Effect by somehow turning off the automatic reading of words. This represents a ‘top down’ instruction that changes the operation of normally automatic brain regions.

Given the direction neuroscience is moving in, you can perhaps be more daring in what you expect from your hypnosis clients, at least those in deep trance. Hypnosis may be more powerful than we ever imagined!

Here is an article from Vaughan Bell of the UK’s Guardian newspaper explaining more.

 Vaughan Bell: hypnosis is no laughing matter | Science

In recent years, hypnosis has seen something of a rebirth, and neuroscience studies using the technique are now regularly published in some of the most respected scientific journals. Via

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