Brain-imaging studies have helped to illuminate what occurs inside the hypnotized brain, though much still remains a mystery.

Hypnotherapy causes observable changes in the brain

Imaging studies observing the general effect of the hypnotic state have found that observable changes occur in the brain during hypnotherapy (1,2). Areas and systems involved in: 

  • Consciousness and
  • Sense of self
  • Attentional absorption and
    Brain Imaging during Hypnotherapy.satory

    Brain Imaging during Hypnotherapy

  • Spontaneous conceptual thought
  • Concentration, attentional control and executive function (reasoning, problem solving, planning, self-control, and cognitive flexibility). (3)
  • Higher cortical functions. (4)
  • Awareness and control of internal bodily processes and emotions. (5)
  • Emotional evaluation and worrying

During hypnotherapy, activity in a brain region that aids people switch between tasks quiets down. This same region seems to disconnect from another area responsible for self-reflection and daydreaming—which may be why hypnotized people aren’t worried about who they are or what they’re doing. Researchers have also found that hypnosis can calm different regions that help control autonomic functions like heart rate, blood flow, and breathing. This is likely what leads to the physical relaxation that’s a hallmark of hypnosis.

In hypnotherapy the brain enters the alpha (light hypnosis) and theta (deep hypnosis) states, and one is highly focused on  suggestions and imagery while suspending the ordinary thinking processes of the beta state. In the alpha and theta states,  suggestions are integrated into the mind more easily, and memories become more accessible. 

References

  1. Kittle J, Spiegel D. Hypnosis: The Most Effective Treatment You Have Yet to Prescribe. Am J Med. 2021 Mar;134(3):304-305.
  2. Spiegel D, Moore R. Imagery and hypnosis in the treatment of cancer patients. Oncology (Williston Park). 1997 Aug;11(8):1179-89;
  3. Deeley Q, Oakley DA, Toone B, Giampietro V, Brammer MJ, Williams SC, Halligan PW. Modulating the default mode network using hypnosis. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2012;60(2):206-28.
  4. Rainville, P., Hofbauer, R. K., Bushnell, M. C., Duncan, G. H., & Price, D. D. . Hypnosis Modulates Activity in Brain Structures Involved in the Regulation of Consciousness. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, (2002) 14(6), 887-901.
  5. Jiang, H., White, M. P., Greicius, M. D., Waelde, L. C., & Spiegel, D. (2016). Brain Activity and Functional Connectivity Associated with Hypnosis. Cerebral Cortex.