The Science of Hypnosis – National Geographic 2013 – Hypnotherapy Glasgow


June 24, 2013

The Science of Hypnosis

By: Chantell Williams


Hypnosis has been around for centuries. It’s been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and pain. Yet

the practice is still struggling for mainstream public acceptance. New research from Stanford

University is applying the latest medical imaging tools to figure out the science behind hypnosis,

and what makes it work. Youth Radio’s Chantell Williams wanted to know what hypnosis can do

for stressed out teens.

First, here’s what hypnosis isn’t: it’s not brainwashing or magic like in the cartoons. Hypnosis is

a trance-like state of heightened concentration and it’s more common than you might think.

Katie Duchscherer, a psychology major at Stanford University, says, “If you’ve ever really

gotten into reading a book or watching a television show and the rest of the world around you

has sort-of gone away. Hypnosis is very similar to that.”

Katie uses self hypnosis to control her anxiety in stressful situations. During a test she takes a

few deep breaths, goes to a different place mentally and tells herself, “I’m going to use this

adrenaline in my system to feel focused for the test.”

Katie learned to hypnotize herself from Dr. David Spiegel, the Associate Chair of Psychiatry and

Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. He defines hypnosis as being to consciousness what a telephoto

lens is to a camera.

Dr. Spiegel says what Katie’s doing is different from meditation or other self-soothing

techniques. She’s easing muscle tension, relaxing non essential parts of her mind, and zooming

in on the problem in front of her, leaving only her and the test. Katie has apparently mastered the

art hypnosis. But not everyone has the ability to be hypnotized. Dr. Spiegel is using brain scans

to research why that is.



A team of researchers, including Dr. Spiegel,

used fMRI to show the different “brain

signatures” of high and low hypnotizable

people. They found a higher connectivity

between different brain regions in highly

hypnotizable people. (Hoeft et al., Functional

Brain Basis of Hypnotizability, 2012)

Dr. Spiegel says hypnotizability is partly due to

childhood experiences. “Children whose

parents are physically abusive tend to be more

hypnotizable, and we think that’s because they

use their brains in an escape,” Spiegel explains.

Positive childhood experiences also contribute

to hypnotizabiltiy. Spiegel says, children who

have parents who tell stories and use their

imaginations a lot tend to like to keep doing


I was a pretty imaginative kid, so I couldn’t help but wonder, could hypnosis work on me? I

found a free video by Googling “self hypnosis.” It told me to close my eyes and think about

being twice as physically and mentally relaxed. But I couldn’t stop thinking, twice as

relaxed? What does it mean to be twice as relaxed?

I really thought hypnosis would work for me. Maybe, with a little training from Dr. Spiegel. He

says, “hypnosis is literally the oldest western conception of a psycho-therapy. It’s been around

for close to 300 years but we still keep viewing it as weird.”

Weird or not, if I could use hypnosis to help me through my finals, count me in.

Contact: Linda Alexander on 0141 632 1440 or 07875 493 358, also

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