Neuroscience of Hypnosis: What Happens In Your Brain When You’re Hypnotized?

by Bob Walsh

Researchers from Israel are studying the influence hypnotic states have on the human mind. They use brain imaging technology (magnetoencephalography magnetic enchephalography or MEG ) to look at brain activity of a person while being hypnotized.

Drs. Eitan Abramowitz and Avi Goldstein and their research team were particularly interested at studying out of body experiences.

The “Hypnosis Center” In Your Brain

And the data they have gathered indicates which part of the brain is probably most influenced by hypnosis: the area where the temporal lobe connects to the parietal lobe in the cerebral cortex.

what happens in your brain during hypnosis?

The same area also shows exceptional activity among epileptics who have out of body experiences.

(Just to clarify: it’s not the function of this brain area to create out of body experiences, but it merely shows significant activity in people when they do have that experience).

Researchers from Germany also recently looked at the brain under hypnosis, using an MRI scan. They found increased activity in the precuneus of the parietal lobe in the cerebral cortex.

What Happens In Your Brain During Hypnotically Induced Paralysis?

A common hypnotic phenomenon is “hypnotic paralysis”. Maybe you have heard a hypnotist speak suggestions like: “You can’t move your arm, it’s glued to your body and you have no feeling in it.” And then the hypnotic subject actually can’t move their arm until the hypnotist gives them a suggestion to “unlock” the paralysis again.

(By the way – it is not possible to permanently cause paralysis with hypnosis – so even if a person is hypnotized that way and then the hypnotist doesn’t “unlock” them, they’ll soon get out of that state by themselves anyway and be able to move their arm just like before, so you can be totally relaxed about this).

Here’s what Dr. Abramowitz said on this subject:

“[Hypnotic] Paralysis occurs when the brain is inattentive to a certain part of the body, or intentionally neglects and neutralizes a certain area. Such knowledge can promote the understanding of how hypnosis works, and establish its position in science and medicine as determined by scientific instruments of research.”

Hypnotic Amnesia

Hypnotic amnesia is when a hypnosis to forget something. (Of course, you can also use hypnosis to remember something you forgot or to improve your memory). A hypnotist can give you suggestions that basically erase a certain memory from your mind. The Israeli researchers are collaborating with Dr. Netta Levin, director of the neurology laboratory, to learn more about what happens in your brain during hypnotic amnesia.

The study is still ongoing, but it’s pretty interesting:

First, the hypnotic volunteer is asked to think of a person with whom they had a very negative emotional experience. They’re asked to remember the face of a person who harmed or degraded them.

Then they get a brain scan.

Then they get hypnotized, and the hypnotist deletes the memory of the threatening face.

Then they get another brain scan to see if the hypnotic memory deletion has caused a detectable change in brain activity.

Initial findings point to increased blood flow in [occipital lobe] when the subject tries to recall the image that was recently “deleted.”

Source: At the count of three… you will understand how hypnosis works, Haaretz, September 04, 2012