Hypnosis and Science

Hypnosis is not a form of medicine taught in medical school. Some people even disregard that hypnosis should have any effect or even exist. This article reviews a scientific study on the impact of hypnosis on the mind.

This article is written mainly for the skeptics. I have often been asked the question of a skeptic, “Does it work?” or “Is it real?” when hypnosis is the topic of discussion. I often hear remarks like “I don’t believe in hypnosis” or something like “I have seen stage hypnosis, and I could separate my hands, so I cannot be hypnotized.”

I often respond to this by asking the skeptic: “Do you believe in gravity?”. This response usually confuses the skeptic because it is perceived as irrelevant to what we are talking about. Even the explanation that hypnosis is just as natural an occurrence as gravity or that hypnosis is a state of mind we all use for learning doesn’t make them “believe in it.” A formally induced state of hypnosis has to be experienced. Still, I have often found that the most skeptical people have never even tried it! It’s tragic since hypnosis could be very beneficial, not just as a treatment but also as a very healthy form of relaxation.

Because of that, I will review an article I read the other day. People who would like to read this article in its full length can do so here:
http://www.hypnosis.edu/articles/brain.asp

The scientific study builds upon the so-called Stroop effect. In 1935 J.R. Stroop described an effect he discovered, that when you wrote the name of colors using other colors than the word represents and asked someone to name the color of the word, it would be somewhat tricky for the person to call the color. He tested the speed at which several persons could call the color when the comment was written in the color it represented, and he compared this speed with the mismatch between word and color. He found that most people will be slower to name the colors when they don’t match (incongruence). Below this text, I have made an image to demonstrate this test for you. Try calling the actual colors of the words without being disturbed by the color that the word represents.

If you would like to try this test against time, then visit this URL:
https://www.psytoolkit.org/lessons/experiment_stroop.html

When you have tried being a subject of the Stroop effect, you are ready to read the rest of this article. This article shows how hypnosis can be related to the Stroop test.

Dr. Amir Raz hypnotized several persons and evaluated their ability to enter a hypnotic trance. After doing that, he would make a hypnotic suggestion that the words they would see when performing the Stroop test would look like gibberish, and therefore they would only concentrate on the color of the terms. For the persons who were evaluated to be highly capable of going into hypnosis, the answers were much faster than those who weren’t as capable of going into the hypnotic state of mind. Using a brain scanner, he later revealed that the part of the brain responsible for handling the written words was inactive with the fastest people who did the test.

The same effect where hypnosis alters the information handling of the brain can be observed when hypnosis is used as treatment against pain: http://www.hypnosis.edu/articles/mind.asp
In Sebastian Schulz-Stubner’s study, the hypnotized group showed subcortical brain activity similar to that of non-hypnotized volunteers, but the primary sensory cortex stayed quiet. The “ouch” message wasn’t making it past the midbrain and into consciousness.

I hope that this article can inspire some skeptics to try hypnosis or hypnotherapy because I haven’t the slightest doubt that it’s a valuable tool. The use of hypnosis could be much more widespread.