I bet you have heard of hypnosis. Do you really know though how it affects our brain and our behavior?

This post is also available in Dutch.

It’s Sunday morning, and I am slowly sipping my coffee when a lady sits down at the table next to mine. She pulls a pile of books out of her bag, a number of manuals about the “secrets of hypnosis”. I am so thrilled that I cannot help but ask her some questions.

In case you never heard of it, “hypnosis” refers to a state of high inner focus and effortless concentration. This is accompanied by poor, almost null, awareness of any outside stimulation and minimal spontaneous thought. The word comes from the ancient Greek “hypnos” and “-osis” and means literally “put to sleep”.

The lady affirms that it is possible to lead people into a hypnotic state and her aim is to become a so-called hypnotist. The reasons are many. Apparently, during the hypnotic state one’s attention is fully centered on the words of the hypnotist. Hence, in such a state, people are generally more receptive to advise and ideas on how to improve some of their behaviors. The lady continues and tells me that, in fact, hypnosis has been widely used to improve some conditions such as anxiety and phobias, panic attacks, and even pain.

At this point I cannot hold my curiosity.

How can hypnosis improve one’s behavior? and what happens to the brain when such a hypnotic state is reached?

Apparently, some neuroscientists enquired the same. To obtain an answer, they gathered some people keen on trying hypnosis while having their brains scanned. The brain analyses that followed indicated that some specific areas of the brain were switched on during hypnosis; and also, that the connection between these brain areas was changed as if compared to a non-hypnotic state. For example, two of these interconnected brain areas under hypnosis – the insula and the dorsolateral frontal cortex – together allow the brain to process what is felt in the body and increase self-awareness.

A proper perception of the self and of one’s own physical activity is key to managing some invasive reactions such as those typical of an anxiety reaction or a panic attack.

Considering this, the increased self-perception that results from a hypnotic experience may help us to get more in touch with our sensations and act upon any state of discomfort. For example, when something preoccupies us, the resulting tension may be overwhelming and lead to anxiety and unpleasant feelings, nearly to feeling out of control. The potential of the hypnosis is that, in such cases, people may be guided towards more positive behaviors, which are then learned and used to counteract negative reactions, including anxiety.

The lady, however, warned me. She explained that hypnosis is not for everyone. Indeed, only 1 in 10 people is really able to enter a hypnotic state and benefit from its effect.  I cannot stop wondering how would I react to a hypnosis session? And you? Would you give it a try?

Author: Martina Arenella
Buddy: Christina Isakoglou
Editor: Ellen Lommerse
Translation: Felix Klaassen
Editor translation: Wessel Hieselaar

Photo credit to geralt via Pixabay

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