Hypnosis is perhaps most known as an art form used by Victorian street entertainers and TV mentalists alike, but a recent study reveals that the hypnotic trance could provide scientists with a fuller understanding of neuro-scientific disorders in patients who do not suffer from brain damage.

Published earlier this year, a study by the University of Cardiff and the London Institute of Psychology challenged myths that hypnotherapy is unworthy of scientific backing. Halligan and Oakley demonstrated how neuroscientists could use hypnosis to emulate the symptoms of medically unexplained paralysis in suggestible volunteers. Researchers found that brain scans of paralysis patients (without brain damage) showed stark similarities to volunteers who, as a result of hypnosis were led to believe they were paralysed. This could potentially give neuroscientists insight into what causes medically unexplained paralysis, and help them discover how they might cure it in the future.

The study is similar to a 2011 study from Maburg University, wherein researchers used hypnosis to bring on hand paralysis in nineteen healthy volunteers. Examination of their brain scans showed that while there was no change in the parts of the brain which make a person able to move, there was significant activity the parts of the brain which alter the belief that they can move. (Pyka, 2011) This supports the idea that emotional states and subconscious perceptions can directly affect what we’re able to achieve in certain cases.

Halligan, Oakley et al have dedicated many years to investigating the scientific applications of hypnosis. Their 2009 research suggests that enhanced knowledge of the hypnotic trance state could help experts explain phenomena such as facial synesthesia,and phantom pain, and it is their view that “hypnosis is one of the most remarkable yet under-researched human cognitive abilities given its striking causal influence on behavior and consciousness.” (Halligan, Oakley, 2009)

With the body of research on hypnosis growing constantly, the impact that hypnosis studies might have on mainstream psychological treatments is not yet clear, however the validity of hypnosis outside of entertainment purposes is much more certain, it is no longer considered a simple stage trick to amuse and dumbfound us .

1. Pyka, M., Burgmer, M., Lenzen, T., Pioch, R., Dannlowski, U., Pfleiderer, B., Ewert, A., Heuft, G., Arolt, V., and Konrad, C. (2011). Brain correlates of hypnotic paralysis—a resting-state fMRI study. NeuroImage, 56 (4), 2173-2182 DOI

2.OAKLEY, D. A. & HALLIGAN, P. W. (2009). Hypnotic suggestion and cognitive neuroscience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 6, 264- 270

3.Oakley DA, and Halligan PW (2013). Hypnotic suggestion: opportunities for cognitive neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14 (8), 565-76 PMID

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