Hypnosis first began as mesmerism in the late 1700s. This practice has existed for centuries, but it has only recently been shown to have scientific benefits. The science behind hypnosis shows that it can reduce anxiety, stress and pain. Despite its scientific backing, many in the mainstream still do not accept hypnosis as a valid therapy.
This technique is not magic or brainwashing. It uses the same trance-like state of concentration that people experience while driving or becoming deeply immersed in a book.
While the science behind hypnosis shows that this technique can help with stress and performance anxiety, it is more than that. In recent years, hypnosis has become a popular medical tool. It is used to reduce pain after a surgery, cure phobias, help mental disorders and help people quit smoking.
Despite the scientific progress behind hypnosis, scientists still argued whether hypnosis was the actual mechanism. Because of the placebo effect, some of these benefits could be a byproduct of the individual’s expectations. They believed that it would help, so it did.
Scientific Evidence of Hypnosis
In a recent New York Times article, a new study shows that hypnosis actually is the mechanism driving change. Stanford researchers found evidence that the brain functions differently when it is hypnotized. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at activity in the brain. Under hypnosis, there was a change in areas that control awareness, the body’ functioning, focused attention and evaluating the environment. This is definitive evidence that the brain actually works differently when someone is under hypnosis.
One interesting discovery is that hypnotized patients have less interaction in a part of the brain responsible for daydreaming and self-reflection. There is also less interaction in the prefrontal cortex, which works to plan and carry out tasks. This change in interaction is thought to be one of the reasons why hypnotized individuals show less self-consciousness.
Researchers are finally starting to understand the science behind hypnosis and how it works. Hypnosis has been used to study posthypnotic amnesia (PHA). This mimics how functional amnesia works, but is reversible. Hypnotists create PHA by suggesting that the hypnotized person forgets a memory. Afterward, the individual shows an impaired memory or inability to recall the event targeted in hypnosis.
When the hypnotists reverses the forgetting, the memory returns. This shows that PHA is not a result of badly encoding the memories or standard forgetting. This aspect helps researchers look at how functional amnesia after a traumatic event works. Through hypnosis, they are learning that the memories are still there, but they are just buried within the mind. The study showed that hypnotic suggestions influence brain activity as well as behaviors and experiences. The effects of hypnosis are real.
Now that scientists are starting to understand the science behind hypnosis, they can find better ways to use it. Hypnosis can be used to help post-trauma anxiety, phobias, grief and sleep disorders. It can help people control habits like overeating, drinking or smoking. Research shows that it can help depression, anxiety and pain during surgical procedures. While scientists are constantly trying to improve their understanding of how hypnosis works, the science so far is clear. For a number of medical ailments, hypnosis is a useful treatment.