A study from the University of Turku, Finland, has revealed that undergoing hypnosis can alter the way the brain processes information, and can cause neural regions to act independently of each other.
The Daily Mail reports that the researchers looked at the brain of one person who had been ‘extensively studied’, and was known to be responsive to hypnosis, discovering that how the brain processes information is fundamentally altered during hypnosis, compared to a natural ‘waking state’
During a normal waking state, information is processed and shared by various parts of the brain to enable flexible responses to external stimuli. The researchers found that during hypnosis the brain shifted to a state where individual brain regions acted more independently of each other.
Henry Railo from the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology at the University of Turku said: “In a normal waking state, different brain regions share information with each other, but during hypnosis, this process is kind of fractured and the various brain regions are no longer similarly synchronised.”
The research has shown that the brain functions differently during hypnosis, which is interesting because the extent to which hypnosis alters neural processing has long been debated by experts in the field.
The findings also help to better understand which types of changes and mechanisms may explain the experiential and behavioural alterations attributed to hypnosis, such as liability to suggestions.
The study of the person who was known to be highly responsive to hypnotic suggestions revealed that during hypnosis, this person can experience phenomena that would not typically be experienced in a waking state, such as vivid and controlled hallucinations.
“Even though these findings cannot be generalised before a replication has been conducted on a larger sample of participants, we have demonstrated what kind of changes happen in the neural activity of a person who reacts to hypnosis particularly strongly,” explained Jarno Tuominen, Senior Researcher at the Department of Psychology and Speech-Language Pathology.
Hypnosis Studied for the First Time with New Method
The study involved tracking a magnetically-induced electrical current that spread throughout the brain during hypnosis and a normal waking state. The method has been previously used to measure system-level changes in the brain in various states of consciousness, for example, anaesthesia, coma, and sleep.
This is the first time such a method has been used to assess hypnosis.
During the study, the participant sat still with eyes closed, alternatively either hypnotised or in a normal waking state. Hypnosis was induced via a single-word cue, and the different conditions were identical in every other respect.
"This allowed us to control the possible effects of the experimental setup or other factors, such as alertness," Tuominen explains.
The study was conducted by researchers Jarno Tuominen from the division of Psychology, Henry Railo from the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, and Valtteri Kaasinen, Assistant Professor in Neurology at the University of Turku, Finland, together with Assistant Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience Sakari Kallio at the University of Skövde, Sweden.
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