A group of researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine used brain imaging to discover what was happening to people while they were hypnotized. The images captured regions of the brain that were most active and most dormant while the participants were hypnotized. The team saw changes in three areas:
- Decreased activity in a region known as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a region known to be critical for evaluating ideas. Hypnotized people are able to suspend judgment and immerse themselves in something, without thinking of what else they could or should be attending. This is why hypnotists often start the process by asking someone to focus completely on a bright light, swinging watch, revolving spiral, breathing, 2 fingers above their eyes, etc. Focus of attention is crucial along with turning off the thinking, critical conscious mind and opening the door of the subconscious mind to programmed suggestions. When the critical (negative) conscious mind is set aside, the subconscious is free to receive and follow positive instructions to change thoughts, feelings and behavior in the new direction desired.
- The second change appeared in some of the parts of the brain that give people the ability to separate the thoughts in their heads from the feelings in their bodies. Hypnotized people may say “It felt like I was all mind, and that my body disappeared.” Hypnotized people are strongly focused on the voice of the hypnotist. They are superaware. Quieter sounds can seem louder. They accept instructions literally. If the hypnotist asks the person in hypnosis to raise their hand, only the hand moves upwards from the wrist, but the arm does not rise. This focus of attention heightens acceptance of instructions such as for pain control in an arm: “You have feelings of comfort in that arm. There may be slight pressure, but only pleasant comfort in that arm.” Or, “That is not your arm. That is someone else’s arm. For now, that arm is gone, and you find it most fascinating that arm has disappeared. That arm has gone on a wonderful vacation.” If the mind is focused on an arm that is gone, then the pain is gone.
- Stanford psychiatry professor David Spiegel said “People who are hypnotized tend not to be self-conscious, and so they will do (acceptable) things they wouldn’t normally do.” This is why shy people will do silly things on stage, such as believe they are a famous entertainer singing, or dancing with a broom as a living partner. On the therapeutic side, in hypnosis, people have a greater potential to be creative and to solve life’s challenges to become their personal best. Beliefs can be changed so that people can reach their maximum potential such that whatever they do, they will do it better with hypnotism. Spiegel said “It is a way of teaching people to enhance control over their brains and bodies…so, when you are thinking about something, you can better control how your body responds to that thought.” The ceiling potential we place on ourselves vanishes in hypnosis. We have ultimate and full confidence in whatever we are asked to do. (Source: published in the journal Cerebral Cortex)