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The Science Behind Hypnosis Time and time again, we hear the question, what exactly is hypnosis and is there science behind it? A brain signature of being hypnotized was first seen in 2012 through functional MRI (fMRI), a kind of MRI showing brain activity with respect to changes in blood flow. Regions of the brain connected with executive control and attention were demonstrated to be involved. In particular, hypnotized subjects exhibited stronger co-activation between components of the executive-control network (manages basic cognitive functions) and the salience network (decides which stimuli should receive attention). In their brains, these two networks reacted together. In those who were not hypnotized, no such connectivity was seen. What placed these experiments in a higher league is that researchers used fMRI to know which areas of brain were activated when the subjects were analyzing colors. The color realms in both left and right hemispheres were excited when the subjects were instructed to perceive colors. The researchers confirmed that hypnosis is indeed a distinct psychological state and undoubtedly not a result of playing a role.
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Another exciting observation from these trials were the hemispheric variances between the hypnotized and non-hypnotized brain. When non-hypnotized subjects were told to point out colors in a black-and-white image, only the right hemisphere responded. The left hemisphere, where reason and logic is processed, responded only during hypnosis.
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Another study used positron-emission tomography (PET) to study cerebral blood flow under hypnosis. The hypnotic state was related to activation of a number of mainly left-sided cortical sections and some right-sided areas. The trend of activation shared a lot of similarities with mental imagery, from which it showed differences by the relative deactivation of the precuneus (handles visuo-spatial imagery, episodic memory retrieval and self-processing operations of the brain). This activation trend proved to be similar with mental imagery, from which it differed with the relative deactivation of the precuneus, the area of the brain in charge of episodic memory retrieval, visuo-spatial imagery and self-processing operations. For certain scholars, hypnotized subjects simply activate to a large extent, the parts of the brain used in imagination, but don’t cause any real perceptual changes. Another functional MRI study showed limited activity in both anterior cingulate cortex, which affects emotions, learning and memory, and visual areas under hypnosis. The findings hints that hypnosis impacts cognitive control by regulating activity in particular brain areas, including early visual modules. In various studies, hypnotizable subjects revealed significantly more pronounced brain activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus, which affects emotions and behavior, compared to non-hypnotized subjects. The anterior cingulate gyrus acts on errors as well as evaluates emotional chagnes. Prefrontal cortex is linked to higher level cognitive processing and behavior. Comparison of findings from multiple studies also indicates quite contradictory results. Several areas of the brain appear to be responsive in various experiments. This could be related to multiple experimental techniques, both in terms of equipment and hypnotic approach used in the experiments.