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Science of Hypnosis Time and time again, we hear the question, what exactly is hypnosis and is there science behind it? A brain signature of being hypnotized was first recognized in 2012 with functional MRI (fMRI), a type of MRI that showed brain . Sections of the brain related with executive control and attention were evidenced to be involved. In particular, hypnotized subjects exhibited stronger co-activation between components of the executive-control network (manages basic cognitive functions) and the salience network (decides which stimuli should receive attention). Both networks in the brain are activated in unison. In those who were not hypnotized, no such connectivity was seen. What drove these experiments to a higher plane is that researcher used fMRI to see which parts of brain get triggered as hypnotized subjects analyzed colors. The color sections in both left and right hemispheres were stimulated when the subjects were made to perceive colors. The researchers confirmed that hypnosis is indeed a distinct psychological state and undoubtedly not a result of playing a role.
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Another fascinating observation from these studies were the hemispheric changes between non-hypnotized and hypnotized brain. When non-hypnotized subjects were told to point out colors in a black-and-white image, only the right hemisphere responded. The left hemisphere, which deals with reason and logic, only responded under hypnosis.
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Another research used positron-emission tomography (PET) to look into cerebral blood flow in hypnotized subjects. The hypnotic state was related to activation of a number of mainly left-sided cortical sections and some right-sided areas. The trend of activation shared a lot of similarities with mental imagery, from which it showed differences by the relative deactivation of the precuneus (handles visuo-spatial imagery, episodic memory retrieval and self-processing operations of the brain). The trend of activation had plenty of similarities with mental imagery, from which it proved different by the relative deactivation of the precuneus, the part of the brain that takes care of the brain’s visuo-spatial imagery, episodic memory retrieval and self-processing operations. For some scholars, hypnotized subjects activate to a considerable extent the brain parts that are used in imagination, but without causing real perceptual changes. Another functional MRI study showed limited activity in both anterior cingulate cortex, which affects emotions, learning and memory, and visual areas under hypnosis. The results suggest that hypnosis influences cognitive control by limiting activity in specific brain regions. In multiple studies, hypnotizable subjects exhibited substantially more brain activity in the emotion and behavior-affecting anterior cingulate gyrus, as compared to participants who are non-hypnotized. The anterior cingulate gyrus responds to mistakes and gauges emotional outcomes. Prefrontal cortex is connected with higher level cognitive processing and behavior. Comparison of findings from multiple studies also indicates quite contradictory results. Several areas of the brain appear to be responsive in various experiments. This may be connected to various experimental techniques, both when it comes to equipment and hypnotic approach used by experimenters.