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What Happens to the Brain during Hypnosis?

During hypnosis, the brain stays active, as if the person is awake.
Some specialists believe that the frontal lobes are responsible for creating an altered state of consciousness during hypnosis.
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  • Written By: D. Nelson
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness that may resemble sleep but which is artificially induced. Most often, hypnosis occurs during hypnotherapy, in which a hypnotist will use suggestion to help a patient to explore repressed memories, thoughts, and ideas. Some people also practice self-hypnosis. Despite that fact that a person experiencing hypnosis appears is relaxed and may experience a mental state similar to sleep, the brain during hypnosis is as active as if the individual were fully awake.

Researchers have found that during hypnosis the brain is capable of attention that is deeply focused. Random or spontaneous thoughts are less likely to occur to a person who is undergoing hypnotherapy. Likewise, the brain is more susceptible to suggestion. This means that an individual undergoing hypnosis is more likely to follow orders from the person performing hypnosis and is likely after the procedure to be influenced by ideas and behaviors that were discussed while he or she was hypnotized.

A theory regarding what happens to the brain during hypnosis regards communication among the brain's cognitive systems. The cognitive systems are those which allow people to process information, categorize information, and create associations. Researchers who believe that communication among the brain's cognitive systems are disturbed point to a number of mental effects of hypnosis as evidence. For example, many undergoing hypnosis report a sense of detachment and a reduction in spontaneous thought.

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There is much debate concerning which physical or neurological effects occur in the brain during hypnosis. Some specialists believe that the frontal lobes play a significant role in creating this altered state of consciousness. The frontal lobes are the part of the brain responsible for organizing intentional action. Since hypnosis requires an individual to participate in involuntary action, many specialists theorize that the functions of the frontal lobes are weakened or altered in some other way.

While there is no conclusive evidence that there are any neurological changes that occur in the brain during hypnosis, many theorists have proposed various ideas that are used to describe the hypnotic procedure. One popular theory is information theory. This idea states that the hypnotist is able to hypnotize an individual by increasing the signal-to-noise ratio. In other words, the hypnotist reduces the presence of distracting thoughts, sounds, and objects in order to make suggestive messages more easily received.

Another popular theory to describe the brain during hypnosis is systems theory. This idea is based on the activity of the nervous systems of the individual undergoing hypnosis. The hypnotist, according to this theory, decreases or increases the activity of various subsystems within the patient's nervous system.

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Discuss this Article

LisaLou
Post 4

@honeybees - You bring up a good point about using a qualified person for a hypnotist. I have always wondered what kind of training is required for someone to become a hypnotist.

Are there certification programs they must pass or can anyone claim to be a hypnotist?

I know of one friend who says this helped her lose weight. She was able to lose some weight, but over time she put it right back on again. If she were to get hypnotized again, would she be able to lose the weight again?

The relationship between hypnosis and the brain seems like it would be very complex. It kind of scares me to think about being so open to the power of suggestion, but I know many people claim it works.

honeybees
Post 3

There is something about the power of suggestion while your brain is in such a focused state that makes hypnosis work. Our brain wave patterns are always moving, but when they are extremely focused there is a difference.

I have never been hypnotized but have always been fascinated by the way it works and have studied the process. I think if someone was interested in being hypnotized you would want to make sure and go with someone who has a good track record.

There are a lot of people out there who can claim to be a good hypnotist, but it still takes practice and training. You want someone who really knows what they are doing.

I also think it is natural to be scared or hesitant about the process. By reading about it and becoming familiar with it, your level of fear can be reduced.

John57
Post 2

I don't really understand all the science behind hypnosis and the brain, but I am a believer in the power of hypnosis.

I had tried just about everything I could think of to quit smoking, but it never ever lasted very long. A friend of mine suggested I try hypnosis. At first I was scared to death to think about doing this, but the motivation to quit smoking was greater.

It is hard to explain this unless you have been through it, but I have had good results. It took more than one session, but even after the first session, I had much less of a desire to smoke.

I hope this is something that continues. If I start having bad cravings again, I will probably repeat the hypnotism. I have never tried self-hypnosis, but this might be something to think about too.

SarahSon
Post 1

One thing I like about the idea of hypnosis is that you don't have so many random and spontaneous thoughts. I often find it hard to focus on one task as so many other thoughts are going around my head at the same time.

I have never been hypnotized, but find it interesting that your brain is just as fully awake, but just more focused. It's too bad you can't find a way to do this without going through hypnosis.

I was in a play in high school where I was hypnotized during one part of the play. Being hypnotized like this helped me solve a murder. Of course none of this actually happened, but it was interesting to play the part!

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