How would you feel if someone implanted a fake memory into your mind?
Based on surprising new research, it’s possible. Your memory is malleable and can easily be fooled into remembering something that isn’t 100 percent true.
In fact, all it takes to create a false memory is a little “help” from your friends…
Social pressure makes it easy
The study, published in Science reveals the intimate connection between memory and our social selves.
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel had volunteers watch a documentary film in small groups.
To test the volunteers’ memories, researchers invited them to come back three days later to take a test that asked them questions about the film.
In addition to answering the questions, volunteers had to indicate how confident they were in their answers. Once this data was in place, researchers had what they needed to find out how social pressure could affect memory.
Again, the volunteers were invited back to the lab to retake the same test. This time, volunteers took the test while getting a functional MRI (fMRI) scan, to see what was going on in their brains.
The test was exactly the same, but with one addition. Each question came with a “lifeline.” This lifeline was the supposed answers of the other volunteers that were in their same viewing group (researchers also included social-media style photos).
What the volunteers did NOT know, however, was that among these “lifelines” were false answers to questions the volunteers had previously answered both correctly and confidently when they first took the test.
The results of these false “implanted” memories?
Despite having been confident about their answers on the first go-around, the volunteers changed their answers to what the planted “lifelines” were… as a result giving incorrect answers almost 70 percent of the time!
But the researchers didn’t stop there…
They wanted to determine whether the volunteers were just caving in to the perceived social pressure created by the “lifelines” or whether their memory of the film actually changed.
Again, they invited the same volunteers to take the test a third time. However, this time, they were told that the “lifelines” they were given were not actual responses from their peers. Rather, they were responses randomly generated by a computer.
This change caused a change to a few of the answers to the questions, but almost 50 percent remained unchanged!
Remember, these were on questions they initially answered correctly and confidently. So it seems to suggest that all it takes to change a memory is a little bit of social pressure.
The fMRI scans revealed why.
It turns out that both the hippocampus and the amygdala work together to create the false memories.
The hippocampus is related to long-term memory formation. The amygdala deals with emotions and also plays a role in social situations. Researchers think that the amygdala might act as a doorway that connects the social and memory processing areas of our brain.
Why can we be so confident in memories that aren’t true?
Duke University Medical Center did some research in 2008 that explains why the testers in the Weizmann Institute study were so certain of their incorrect and socially “planted” answers.
The researchers at Duke gave volunteers well-established tests of memory and false memory.
These tests were done while the volunteers were in an fMRI so researchers could see the brain activity.
When it comes to retrieving a memory, two regions of your brain are simultaneously accessed – your frontal parietal lobe (FPL) and your medial temporal lobe (MTL).
It turns out the reason we can be so confident in false memories is because of our front parietal lobe (FPL).
This region of the brain gives us an impression of a memory. It doesn’t give us exact details, but rather just a “gist” of what happened. So volunteers who were confident in the false memories had stronger activation of their FPL.
Those volunteers in the study who were confident in memories that were true had more activity in their medial temporal lobe (MTL).
The MTL is the region at the base of the brain that helps you remember specifics and details. It’s what helps you remember certain colors, smells, tastes, sounds, etc.
When you’re trying to remember something that really didn’t happen, your brain can’t come up with the specifics… so it activates more of the FPL to try and give you the sense of what supposedly happened in the memory.
What happens to memory as you age?
As you get older, it becomes even easier to be confident in memories that never took place.
This is because with aging comes some mental decline. And one of the first things to go is the ability of the MTL to recall specifics.
According to Dr. Roberto Cabeza, the lead author of the Duke University study:
“Specific memories don’t last forever, but what ends up lasting are not specific details, but more general or global impressions. Past studies have shown that as normal brains age, they tend to lose the ability to recollect specifics faster than they lose the ability recall impressions. However, patients with Alzheimer’s disease tend to lose both types of memories equally, which may prove to be a tool for early diagnosis.”
Good reason to do everything you can to keep your memory sharp.
Thankfully, there ARE a few things you can do right now to slow – and sometimes even prevent – mental decline as you age:
Walk more – Part of the reason for memory decline as you age, is that the hippocampus shrinks. But a study reported at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that walking just 3 times a week for 40 minutes can expand the size of the hippocampus by almost 2 percent.  This alone can have a huge effect on keeping your mind and memory “young.”
Vinpocetine – This extract from the periwinkle plant has been used in Europe for decades to treat and help prevent dementia. It’s so effective, one study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that regular supplementation with vinpocetine helped chronic cerebral dysfunction patients improve significantly and score better on numerous mental tests. 
Blueberries – You’ve probably heard that these are great for your heart. But it turns out they’re also good for your brain. One Tufts University study suggests it can even help prevent the loss of short-term memory.  You can eat them plain or add them to your favorite cereal or oatmeal.
Folic Acid – This is one I found surprising. It’s already well-known that folic acid is good for pregnant women. But a Dutch study found that supplementing with folic acid can improve your memory. Subjects who took 800mcg daily knocked off 5.5 years their age when it came to their performance on standardized memory tests. 
Reduce Stress – This is a big one. The research  is clear that higher cortisol levels caused by stress can drastically reduce memory (both short term and long term). Our recommendation of course is to use hypnosis. The most effective program out there is created by Dr. Randy Gilchrist, you can find it below:
And please take action on some or all of the other suggestions and you won’t have to worry about whether or not that memory of yours is true or not.
And while we’re at it, I’d love to hear your experience with this. Have you ever remembered something and were 100% sure about it… only to find out later that it wasn’t true?
- Micah Edelson, Tali Sharot, Raymond J. Dolan, Yadin Dudai. Following the Crowd: Brain Substrates of Long-Term Memory Conformity. Science, 2011; 333 (6038): 108-111
- Duke University Medical Center (2007, November 8). Why False Memories Sometimes Feel Like They Are Absolutely True.
- Kirk I. Erickson,et.al “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory,” PNAS 2011 108 (7) 3017-3022
- Balestreri, R : Fontana, L : Astengo, F,“A double-blind placebo controlled evaluation of the safety and efficacy of vinpocetine in the treatment of patients with chronic vascular senile cerebral dysfunction.”, J-Am-Geriatr-Soc. 1987 May; 35(5): 425-30
- Journal of Neuroscience, September 15, 1999, 19(18); 8114-8121.
- Durga J, van Boxtel MPJ, Schouten EG, Kok FJ, Jolles J, Katan MB, Verhoef P. Effect of 3-year folic acid supplementation on cognitive function in older adults in the FACIT trial: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial. Lancet 2007;369:208-16.
- Newcomer JW et al. Decreased Memory Performance in Healthy Humans Induced by Stress-Level Cortisol Treatment. Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 56, no. 6, pp. 527-533, June 1999.
Deep down, we all know pain and love are profoundly coupled. Well, according to some Stanford researchers, it turns out pain and love overlap in the brain. And although love can hurt, it turns out love just might actually be a “pain reliever” as well.
In the brain, early stages of passionate love are similar to what drug addicts feel towards their drug of choice. In short, just thinking about the one you love kick starts activity in several regions on the brain – notably the “reward center.”
Because research has established that activation of this “reward center” reduces pain – researchers predicted people in the early stages of passionate love might experience pain reduction when the reward center was triggered by a picture of the person they were “hot” for at that time.
The study itself is sort of involved, but very cool…so bear with me for a moment and everything will become clear…
The Set Up
Stanford University chose students from its own campus, selecting 15 total (7 men, 8 women, average age of 20) who all described themselves as passionately, intensely, deeply in love.
(They had to take a test to prove their level of love, and all scored at least 90 out of 100 on a 9-point scale called the Passionate Love Scale – and all were within the first 1- 9m stage of their relationship).
Subjects brought 3 photos of their beloved, and 3 photos of a personal acquaintance that they found to be equally as attractive as their significant other (and the same sex as their significant other, too).
Because they were testing pain reduction, the researchers had to induce pain.
So, the first step was to establish a ‘moderate’ threshold of pain for each student, using an Advanced Thermal Stimulator – a small device placed into the palm that would generate heat.
Heat was generated into the palm of each student and he or she had to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10 (1 for little pain to 10 for intense pain) and say when they felt a) moderate pain, and b) significant pain.
For the group, 4 was determined to be the average ‘moderate’ pain level, and 7 was the average ‘significant’ pain level. They also established a “no pain” level with the device putting out zero heat.
Subjects were hooked up to an fMRI so researchers could observe brain activity throughout the experiment.
Three possible situations tested pain relief in relation to the following:
- Romantic partner pictures. The romantic partner baseline was established by having the individual look at pictures of their beloved and think only of that person.
- The good looking acquaintance pictures. The second situation involved looking at photos of the attractive acquaintance and thinking of that person – the acquaintance baseline. (The participant had chosen that acquaintance based on the fact that while they were equally as good looking as the beloved person, the tester claimed zero romantic attachment to the person.)
- A distraction control game. The researchers used a word manipulation game that had been previously proven to reduce pain… (For example, one question was: “name all sports played with a ball,” and the person had to list all of the sports he could think of…and yes, this technique is a common, proven tactic for reducing pain because it distracts the participant from the pain at hand).
Subjects all experienced each of the above scenarios under the conditions of no pain, moderate pain, and significant pain.
The article, printed online in October’s PLoS One, breaks down the 54 total trials clearly: “Each condition (partner, acquaintance, and distraction) by pain (none, moderate, high) combination was repeated six times, for a total of 54 randomly ordered trials.”
Viewing pictures of romantic partners and playing the word distraction game both significantly reduced pain in the participants…there was actually zero difference in the amount of pain reduction when comparing the two – both reported the pain going from 4 or 7 down to 1 or 3, respectively, on the pain scale.
However, viewing a non-romantically linked acquaintance did not reduce pain.
So distraction and love appear to be excellent pain relievers!
However, different parts of the brain were triggered to reduce pain during each situation…
During the word distraction game, the right orbitofrontal cortex was activated, which does help reduce pain in the short term.
However, looking at pictures of one’s romantic partner showed reduced BOLD (blood oxygen level dependent) activity in certain spots, which lends itself to longer lasting pain relief than the distraction tasks alone.
In sum, this study shows us that there are other cognitive, non-pharmaceutical ways to eliminate pain. This study has added both emotion- and distraction- based methods as ways of reducing pain.
The prediction here then is that the pain reduction from love is longer lasting…
Pass The Passion Phase…
One thing though, this study only examined the most passionate phase of love, the 1-9 month phase…I can’t help but wonder if the passion-reducing love has a limited time offer – can you still reduce pain by looking at your partner’s photo if you’ve been together 10 years? Or 40 years?
A study using older people would better aid the more senior population – those most often affected by chronic pain!
Regardless, this study certainly adds to the range of knowledge on pain, and we must now continue to examine the pathways of the brain linked to pain relief in order to hopefully, some day, be able to eliminate chronic pain once and for all.
Sources: Younger, Jarred, et al. October 2010.“Viewing Pictures of a Romantic Partner Reduces Experimental Pain: Involvement of Neural Reward Systems.”PLoS ONE: 5(10): online publication only.
White, Tracie. “Love Takes Up Where Pain Leaves Off, Brain Study Shows.” Inside Stanford Medicine. Stanford School of Medicine, October 2010. http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2010/october/love.html
In a kind of spooky experiment, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences reveal that our decisions are made seconds before we become aware of them.
In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand.
The only condition was that they had to remember when they made the decision to either use their right hand or left hand.
Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use BEFORE they were consciously aware of the decision.
By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 SECONDS before the participant was aware of the decision.
“Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist.
I don’t even know where to begin here! I know from the hypnosis research that the unconscious pretty much controls everything and that consciousness is extremely limited.
But, I do find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me…
I am not the only one.
Watch Marcus Du Sautoy (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) go through the study himself. The 7 second delay is in full effect.
Marcus is really disturbed here and brings up the subject of free will. Does this mean we really do NOT have free will? I am really curious what you think about this, please comment below.
Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes, “Unconscious Determinants of Free Decisions in the Human Brain.” Nature Neuroscience, April 13th, 2008.
At one point in time, we have all been told that it is best to learn a new skill slowly. To learn to hit a correct forehand in tennis, you need to practice over and over again. To prepare for a test in school, you should study every day leading up to the exam.
This is still great advice, but what if you practice or study consistently and show no signs of improvement?
Should you just give up?
No, you shouldn’t, and here is why:
It turns out that for a lot of tasks, improvement doesn’t come gradually…but instead comes in a flash of insight and clarity, and BOOM: you are perfectly able to hit that forehand or able to ace your test.
Scientists at the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia sought to find out if there was activity in the brain that mimicked this ‘eureka!’ moment of clarity, and their findings, although not too surprising, are quite interesting.
Previous research has already determined that the ability to apply new rules (or learn a new skill) lies in the frontal lobes. This is where the executive control center of the brain is located.
A new study, published in the May 2010 issue of Neuron, sought to find out how the neurons in the frontal cortex (in rat brains, which operate similarly enough to ours to test) will switch from encoding a familiar rule (or behavior) to a completely new rule that could only be tested through trial and error.
In other words, when the rats are forced to figure out a new task, how would their frontal lobes react to learning new behaviors?
To see how the brain would respond, the rats were set up in a cage with two levers. Each lever had a light over it, which switched from the left to right levers. If the rats pressed the level that had the light over it, they would receive a treat.
After the rats were successful at this 20 times in a row, the researchers changed the game so that the rats would only get a reward from pressing the right level, regardless of which one had the light.
It took the rats between 30 to 40 trials to fully comprehend and conquer the new game and reward system.
In other words – it took about 30 to 40 trials to learn the new behavior.
Analyzing Brain Patterns
Brain scans showed that although there were different brain patterns going on in the rat’s frontal lobes while learning the new behavior, they actually had to learn the new behavior for the lights to go on…literally.
The researchers offer an analogy that compares the patterns in the brain to a string of lights. All the lights on the string are on (representing the neurons constantly firing within the brain) but for each different pattern, SOME of the lights would shine brighter than others.
When the rats comprehended the new task for the first time, researchers noticed a vastly different pattern of ‘lights’ in the frontal lobe, likening this pattern to their ‘eureka!’ moment, when the rats first successfully completed the new task and received a reward.
The results suggest that when measuring improvement, you may not see constant improvement – but instead you are more likely to see big improvements in chunks over time.
As the researchers note, “there are situations where…it’s really an all or none shift in the brain.”
The big issue then is how do you know when you are improving if you can’t measure gradual improvement? More research is needed here as I don’t think we know the answer.
So, as you are learning something new, like a tennis stroke, do not get discouraged if it doesn’t appear you are making any progress at first. It takes your brain time to learn the new skill set, just as it took for the rats in the experiment.
However, instead of quitting, keep trying, because your ‘eureka!’ moment of clarity may be just moments away.
Durstewitz, Daniel, Nicole M. Vittoz, Stan B. Floresco, and Jeremy K Seamans. “Abrupt Transitions between Prefrontal Neural Ensemble States Accompany Behavioral Transitions during Rule Learning.” Neuron. May 2010. Volume 66, 438-448.
If you surf around the internet often, I imagine you have seen advertisements claiming that brain software can increase your intelligence.
You know, just play this video game and get smarter…sounds great!
But not so fast, there are actually people out there that research this stuff to see if they work…
This Study Says “Not So Fast” on the Online Brain Game Claims
Members of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Britain’s Medical Research Council decided to get to the bottom of this with a test group of 10,000 people.
Over the course of six weeks, a group of 4,000 people, from ages 18-60, were given online games to play, designed to make you smarter – in terms of improving memory, reasoning, and other cognitive skills.
They were given instructions to play the games for a set amount of time: 10 minutes per day, 3 times per week.
A second group, roughly the same size and of the same age group as the first, were given online games to play that tested other skills, including short-term memory, attention span, and certain types of math.
A third control group, smaller at about 2,000 people but of the same ages as well, were told to surf the web as usual.
Both before and after the experiment, all participants were given IQ tests. The researchers then compared the test results to determine if any of the individuals had gotten smarter from the games.
The results, published in the latest online issue of the journal Nature, suggested brain games did not improve any cognitive functions at all.
Lead researcher, Adrian Cohen, went as far as to say that this study proved the games did not increase a person’s IQ at all either.
There is a Debate about the Study
It is worth noting that the researchers involved in this study created both the IQ tests and the brain games used in the experiments. They claim (and they are a bunch of Neuroscientists) that their games represent what is currently being sold on the market.
The companies in the industry, of course, deny this. At the moment, I simply do not know who is right but my intuition is to go with the research.
There are some companies out there that do seem to offer technology that is different from what this study was about, but from what I can see it covers over 95% of the games available now.
I am in discussions with a professor who understands this better than I do and if you are interested we are going to provide you with information on specific online brain games – I just want to get my facts straight first.
What Does This Mean?
Although there is the debate mentioned above, this research does indicate that some of the claims you have been reading are overblown at best. One thing we do know about increasing your intelligence, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s, etc… is that you want to continually challenge your brain in different ways.
Learning a new language, playing a new instrument, learning a new form of exercise, a new dance, or a martial art are proven ways to activate what we call brain plasticity.
New neural pathways can be formed in this way as well and you can learn new fun skills along the way.
As far as the popular online games, there is no harm, but I would wait and see what more experts have to say.
Nature Advance Online, 464, April 20 2010
Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Britain’s Medical Research Council
Have you ever wondered why swearing seems to be your immediate reaction to pain?
In June 2009, researchers at the Keele University in England sought to determine why the automatic response for so many people in pain is to blurt out swears.
The question at hand was, does simply expressing pain (in a shout, yelp, or cry) make you feel better, or, is it the specific words you choose to yell that helps to lessen pain? Do curse words contain a hidden power that has the ability to help decrease pain?
To answer these questions, researchers found 68 college-aged students and asked each to submerge one hand in icy water for as long as they could possibly stand it. They were trying to test if students could keep their hands submerged longer if they used curse words or non-curse words.
During the first trial, the students were permitted to swear out loud as often as they needed to see if it could lengthen the period of time that the hand could stay submerged.
During the second trial, the students submerged their other hand in the icy water and this time, they were permitted to say whatever they wanted, as long as it did not contain swearing.
(Fact – one reason behind this study was because the head researcher, Richard Stevens of Keele University, heard his wife hollering expletives when she was giving birth. When she apologized afterward, the nurses and doctors shrugged her off, insisting it happened quite often. Her husband wondered why and sought to find out.)
The *&%#ing Results
It was determined that, on average, swearing students could hold their hands in the water over 40 seconds longer than when they did not swear. (Considering the average individual could keep a hand submerged for only a couple minutes, keeping the same hand under the water for an additional 40 seconds was quite a chilling accomplishment!)
Why were the swearing students able to keep their hands in icy water longer?
Preliminary research has pointed to the amygdala, a gland that makes the heart speed up and the resistance to pain stronger, as the key. It is basically responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction, which you probably have heard of previously.
The working theory is that using actual cuss words somehow activates deep primitive negative emotions, which somehow triggers the amygdala to choose the “fight” response.
The fight response then raises your heart rate and decreases pain sensations, just like swearing after feeling pain.
More research is still needed to determine the exact reason why using actual cuss words is able to induce this response.
So, even though cursing is often thought of as reflective of poor manners, it may be that profane language has the power to decrease pain that general speech does not.
Keele University psychologist, Dr. Richard Stevens, summarized his findings and offered this sound advice after the study was over: “I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear.”
Do you follow the doctor’s orders?
If you want to learn more about the amygdala and it’s connection to hypnosis, please check out this article: click here to read more.
NeuroReport, June 2009
Perspectives on Psychological Science, March 2009
A new study published in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Neuron, has identified areas of the brain that, when damaged, leads to a greater sense of self-transcendence.
The higher you are on the self-transcendence scale, the more you view yourself as being an integral part of the universe as a whole… So if you rank low on this scale, it is all about YOU!
And no, the researchers didn’t damage people’s brains just to find out. They somehow got permission to do pre and post personality testing with patients who had to have surgery anyway that would cause selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions.
Does One Need Brain Damage to Gain Transcendence?
I seriously doubt it! Remember, this is normally a stable personality trait – so some people just naturally see themselves as part of a greater whole.
And some people spend years in meditation in order to move up the scale. There has been a lot of solid research behind various forms of meditation demonstrating that not only can a person move up this scale in the personality tests…
But also make significant changes to their brain’s structure. But this takes years.
One thing (among others) that is interesting here, is that we now know that by directly altering the brain’s structure through surgery, that deep personality changes can be made… and they aren’t all bad.
Better Living Through Direct Brain Alteration?
According to Dr. Salvatore M. Aglioti from Sapienza University of Rome (one of the researchers):
“If a stable personality trait like self transcendence can undergo fast changes as a consequence of brain lesions, it would indicate that at least some personality dimensions may be modified by influencing neural activity in specific areas,… Perhaps novel approaches aimed at modulating neural activity might ultimately pave the way to new treatments of personality disorders.”
Well, this seems to be opening a whole new can of worms! I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but it seems to me that down the road this could be used to literally change the personalities of those who the powerful deem as, “subversive”.
It could also turn into something like plastic surgery where people go in to get a quick, “personality adjustment”.
And of course, it could become a very valuable tool for people who are living a life of internal pain. Nothing is as simple as it seems.
I hope you found that interesting, if you want more of this type of information – let me know.
Citation: Urgesi et al., ‘The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence’, Neuron, February 2010, 65 (3), 309-319; doi:
The June 2009 issue of the Journal Neuron just published a fascinating study that could be the next step towards figuring out how hypnosis actually works in the brain.
As you probably know, I am big into brain science – and especially studies employing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). What I like about fMRI is that it provides a window into the brain; allowing scientists to find out what is really going on as opposed to solely relying on reporting or behavioral assessments.
I wish they had this technology when I was in graduate school in the mid 90’s – I never would have left.
Anyway, let’s take you through the experiment. I think you will find this interesting and maybe even helpful in some strange way.
Researchers recruited 18 healthy volunteers, and asked them to perform a “go-no go” task while their brains were being watched via fMRI.
The participants were first required to fixate on a cross which was shown for half a second. This was followed by a grayscale picture of either a left or a right hand; this was a cue shown to indicate which hand was at play.
After an interval of 1-5 seconds, the hand changed color.
If it turned green, they had to respond, as quickly as possible, by pressing a button with the corresponding hand.
If it turned red, they were to withhold the prepared movement and do nothing.
Here is the Fun Part!
Twelve of the participants played the game both under hypnosis (and told that their left hand was paralyzed), or in a normal state.
6 of the participants performed the task while feigning paralysis (acting “as if” they were unable to move the fingers of the left hand).
Both the control group (the group that feigned paralysis and the hypnosis group were able to resist pushing the button with the left hand – but the brain scans showed that the mechanisms involved were completely different!
This alone blows away the hypothesis that there is no difference between hypnosis and just acting. The evidence against this theory is more than compelling, but it is nice to see this happening in the brain itself.
More about The Test (and why science is so cool)
There were two tests going on here.
First, they were testing how the hypnosis paralysis group suppressed the movement:
It either suppressed the movement in the preparatory level (by not “gearing up” the left hand when the grey left was displayed).
It suppressed the movement after the preparatory level (meaning the brain recognized the left hand and it geared up, but just didn’t allow the left hand to move.
Second (and what is really interesting to me)
By comparing the brain activity measured during hypnosis and in the feigned paralysis group, they could see whether the mechanisms in the brain were similar.
Test One Results – It is Not about the Planning
The results of the first test were pretty interesting. It turns out that when the hypnosis group was shown the grey left hand, that there was in fact brain activity in the right motor cortex which is associated with planning to execute a necessary command on the left side of your body.
In fact in both the hypnosis group and the feigned paralysis group, both group’s brains planned and/or “got ready” to move the left hand. This was true of all the subjects regardless of whether they were not hypnotized or just pretending.
So the answer to the first test is that the preparatory part of the brain is NOT blocked, it happens after preparation.
Test Two Results: Why Hypnosis is not like Pretending
The next step was examining the activity of the motor cortex at the time of actual hand movement execution.
At the time when the movement should be executed, the normal group again showed activity in the right motor cortex, but the hypnotized group did not (kind of expected since they did not move their left paralyzed hand).
However, the hypnotized group did show increased activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortexes (these are involved in executive control and attention). More relevant, there was also increased activity in a part of the brain called the precuneus.
The precuneus is involved in mental imagery and especially in making representations of self (it is heavily involved in creating your self-image).
In the feigning or “pretending” group, these areas of the brain did not experience more activity. Instead, there was increased activity in the right inferior frontal gyrus, which is involved in motor inhibition. (The hypnosis group did NOT experience increased activity in this area).
So What Does this Mean?
Sorry for all the brain talk (don’t worry; I have to refer to charts as well). And of course it is not wise to jump to conclusions. But, this not only shows a difference between pretending and hypnosis – it indicates that hypnosis uses internal representations and self imagery to take control of your behaviors – while “pretending” relies on will power.
Instructions given under hypnosis seem have the ability to override habitual action, without conscious awareness. And it seems to do so by working at the level of self image. This is why it is such a powerful tool for self-change.
The author of the study, Dr. Yann Cojan, said it differently, “These results suggest that hypnosis may enhance self-monitoring processes to allow internal representations generated by the suggestion to guide behavior but does not act through direct motor inhibition,” says Dr. Cojan.
Here is my two cents. Having been “hypnotized” more times than I can count, and talking to our customer base (full disclosure – my company sells hypnosis CDs), the results make sense.
When folks use hypnosis for weight loss, for example, they report that when they go to the fridge to get a snack – it is almost as if something pulls them away from this action. It seems like as the self image is built, it gets in the way of behaviors that were causing you trouble. And this is without a person having to think about it, or use will power.
Anyway, there is still a lot to learn!
I am very interested in what you think about this article, and would love to start a good conversation about brain science and behavior in general.
Please comment and sign up for Intense Debates. I promise to answer any questions on the blog. My answers are usually replies to specific posts.
Just click the blue “reply” by any comment to see my response.
The Brain under Self-Control: Modulation of Inhibitory and Monitoring Cortical Networks during Hypnotic Paralysis
Neuron, Volume 62, Issue 6, 25 June 2009, Pages 862-875
Yann Cojan, Lakshmi Waber, Sophie Schwartz, Laurent Rossier, Alain Forster and Patrik Vuilleumier