Science of hypnosis

Hypnosis and Suggestion is a fantastic website created by Dr Matt Whalley, an academic hypnosis researcher who gives a level-headed and detailed account of what is known about the science of hypnotic states and suggestion.

Hypnosis is a well researched psychological phenomenon and, increasingly, it is being investigated by cognitive neuroscientists.

What we know is that some people are more susceptible to hypnotic suggestions than others.

Research has shown that the level of hypnotic susceptibility is known to be stable across the life span and related to genetics.

A twin study shown that hypnotisability is likely to be heritable and recent molecular genetics studies have shown that it may be influenced by a gene known as COMT.

Interest has recently begin to focus on what makes some people highly hypnotisable compared to others.

A recent study looking at brain structure found that the front part of the corpus callosum was almost a third bigger in highly hypnotisable people.

This matches up with other neuroimaging studies which have suggested that highly hypnotisable people show differences in the function of frontal lobes, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex.

These differences are likely to be linked to an ability to become very ‘absorbed’ in things, with a simultaneous reduction in conflict and distraction when highly focused.

This might explain why hypnotic suggestions seem to have their effect on highly hypnotisable people, as they become absorbed in what the hypnotist says and can voluntarily ‘switch off’ the need to constantly self-monitor and evaluate their own reactions.

Interestingly, research suggests that we aren’t very good at working out how hypnotisable we are.

Matt Whalley’s site is a fantastic introduction to what is known about the science of hypnosis, including a list of frequently asked questions, an overview of the current theories of hypnosis, its history and its use by legitmate clinicians.

A fascinating read and well worth investigating if you’re curious about this intriguing human phenomenon.

Link to Hypnosis and Suggestion website.

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