The hypnotist asks you some questions and then begins their induction. You feel your brain drift and you follow the instructions. And when you emerge you feel different and new. You are unsure what has changed only that it happened to you. This is your brain on hypnosis.
What accounts for these changes? What do we know about the process scientifically? From brain imaging to brain waves, everyday science is learning more about how hypnosis affects the mind.
Types of Waves in Your Brain
Let’s talk science. Your brain has four states of awareness.
- Beta– Alert, actively thinking and concentrating.
- Alpha– Relaxed, associated with light trances.
- Theta– Daydreaming, deep hypnosis, also associated with light slumber.
- Delta– Deep sleep state.
Hypnosis deals specifically with Alpha and Theta waves. We know that deeper forms of hypnosis occur at Theta while lighter phenomena occur at Alpha. Despite what you may think, we go in and out of these states all the time. When we watch a movie, or drive, or get absorbed in a project. When we aren’t in alpha or theta, we are in beta (fully awake and aware) or delta (asleep).
Brain Waves and State
Alpha waves are primarily associated with feelings of relaxation while Theta waves are associated with suggestibility, memory access, and internal imagery. As said before, we all can access these states. We all can imagine things in our dreams or if you’re a daydreamer like me, all the time. We also theoretically know how to relax. Though maybe, we don’t practice that skill as often as we all should.
However, entering these states intentionally allows us to interact to some level with our unconscious. A process, that while powerful on your own, can be even more efficient with a hypnotist. As I often say, we are just your guide through the process. You ultimately make the changes.
Neuroscience has shown us a great deal of how the brain works in hypnosis. We cannot seem to explain why or exactly how, but scientists have noted a few things that occur during the hypnotic state.
We have figured out that hypnosis causes changes in the structures of the brain involved in:
- Sense of self
- Reasoning, Problem Solving, Planning
- Self-control and mental flexibility
- Awareness and control of emotions and bodily functions
- Emotional Evaluation and Worrying
- Motor Control
- Autonomic functions
These observable changes were noted during studies focusing on neurophysical responses to suggestions for pain, paralysis, imagination, memory, and motor function.
Your Brain On Hypnosis
So what do we know about your brain on hypnosis? Three big things.
First, there is reduced connectivity between the parts of your brain involved in decision making (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex ) and the part of your brain related to thoughts about the self (cingulate cortex. ) Scientist believes this could account for the immediacy of change in hypnosis.
Second, the connection between that part of your brain involved in decision making and the insula (involved in sensing and internal bodily processing) has an increased connection. Some scientist theorizes this accounts for your increased emotional control while in deep hypnotic states enacting change.
Finally, they found less connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the “default mode network” in the highly hypnotizable. The “default network” comprises many areas throughout the brain. It is a part of the brain usually only active when our mind is wandering. It also relates to thinking about the present, past, future.
This disconnection means that when you get really engaged in an activity you don’t think about it. You just do it. Which could easily account for the allowance for change we have in hypnosis. An ability to change without being self-conscious of that change.
A Powerful Tool
Hypnosis is a powerful tool for change. With any number of applications to an infinite amount of problems. It’s just a matter of determining what it can do for you. How you can leverage your own brain to your advantage. The body of science supporting its use is only growing. Every day we are learning more about our brain, how it works, and how hypnosis affects it.
For more information about how hypnosis works or what it is (and isn’t) check out All About Hypnosis in our menu.