A way of making people more hypnotizable – potentially enabling them to access the benefits of hypnosis-based therapy – has been discovered.A new study by Stanford Medicine scientists in the US has found that electrical brain stimulation can temporarily heighten a person’s ability to be hypnotized.
Experiments show that less than two minutes of stimulation targeting a precise area of the brain can boost participants’ hypnotizability for around an hour, after which point the effects wear off. Lead author Dr. Afik Faerman said the results could have huge implications for patients who benefit from hypnotherapy treatments, such as those suffering with chronic disease.
“We know hypnosis is an effective treatment for many different symptoms and disorders, in particular pain,” he said.
“Clinically, a transient bump in hypnotizability may be enough to allow more people living with chronic pain to choose hypnosis as an alternative to long-term opioid use.”
The study, published in the journal Nature Mental Health, was conducted on 80 people with fibromyalgia – a chronic pain condition that can be treated with hypnotherapy.
Half of the participants received transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which paddles applied to the scalp delivered 800 electrical pulses to the brain in two 46-second applications.
The exact location depended on the unique structure and individual activity of each person’s brain.
Senior author Dr. Nolan Williams, who has pioneered non-invasive neurostimulation techniques to treat conditions such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and suicidal ideation, explained: “A novel aspect of this trial is that we used the person’s own brain networks, based on brain imaging, to target the right spot.”
The other half of participants received a “sham” treatment which had the same look and feel, but none of the electrical stimulation.
Hypnotizability was assessed by clinicians – using a measurement between one and ten – immediately before and after the treatments, with neither the patients nor the clinicians knowing who was in which group.
Researchers found that those who received the neurostimulation showed a statistically significant increase in hypnotizability, scoring roughly one point higher than before treatment.
Those in the “sham” group experienced no change to their scores. When participants were reassessed one hour later, the effects had worn off and there was no longer a statistically significant difference between the groups.
Stanford’s study marks the first time scientists have been able to alter hypnotizability, with previous research – such as a paper by the same university in the 1950s – finding that a person’s ability to be hypnotized remains consistent over the years, similar to a person’s personality or IQ.
“We were pleasantly surprised that we were able to, with 92 seconds of stimulation, change a stable brain trait that people have been trying to change for 100 years,” said Dr Williams. “We finally cracked the code on how to do it.”
Senior author Dr. David Spiegel added: “It’s unusual to be able to change hypnotizability.” Next, the researchers plan to test whether different dosages of neurostimulation could enhance hypnotizability even more.
They also want to consider whether neurostimulation could have impacts on a person’s response to psychotherapy.
Dr. Faerman explained: “As a clinical psychologist, my personal vision is that, in the future, patients come in, they go into a quick, non-invasive brain stimulation session, then they go in to see their psychologist.
“Their benefit from treatment could be much higher.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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