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Evidence for hypnosis

17 Aug

Hypnosis is a fascinating subject. For years a debate has raged among psychologists over its reality. For many years the dominant view has been that hypnosis is not some special state of consciousness, but, actually, a social phenomenon where an individual simply conforms to the authority of the hypnotist because of prior beliefs about how a hypnotized person is supposed to behave.

Recently, however, the idea of hypnosis has an altered state of consciousness has re-emerged. This is because of studies showing physiological correlates of hypnosis. Here is the abstract of a recent paper published in the journal Cerebral Cortex:

“Hypnosis has proven clinical utility, yet changes in brain activity underlying the hypnotic state have not yet been fully identified. Previous research suggests that hypnosis is associated with decreased default mode network (DMN) activity and that high hypnotizability is associated with greater functional connectivity between the executive control network (ECN) and the salience network (SN). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate activity and functional connectivity among these three networks in hypnosis. We selected 57 of 545 healthy subjects with very high or low hypnotizability using two hypnotizability scales. All subjects underwent four conditions in the scanner: rest, memory retrieval, and two different hypnosis experiences guided by standard pre-recorded instructions in counterbalanced order. Seeds for the ECN, SN, and DMN were left and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), respectively. During hypnosis there was reduced activity in the dACC, increased functional connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC;ECN) and the insula in the SN, and reduced connectivity between the ECN (DLPFC) and the DMN (PCC). These changes in neural activity underlie the focused attention, enhanced somatic and emotional control, and lack of self-consciousness that characterizes hypnosis.”

(Hat tip to Brain Blogger)

Hypnosis or misdirection?

6 Jan

This video has been making the rounds on the internet. It purports to show a theft committed by hypnosis:



But I am skeptical. The audio quality is poor, so we cannot hear what is being said. Also, the victim’s head is blurred so we don’t know where he is looking when the theft takes place.

I suspect that what we are really seeing is a pickpocket in action. A good pickpocket uses misdirection and the victim is unaware of the theft.

Watch this promotional video for pickpocket Bob Arno and notice how he touches his victim:



One of the reasons we find a stage pickpocket entertaining is because we stand outside of the victim’s frame of reference. We see things that the victim cannot see. I think this is a more plausible explanation than hypnosis.


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