Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The neural mechanisms underlying hypnotic states and responses to hypnotic suggestions remain largely unknown and, to date, have been studied only with indirect methods. Here, the effects of hypnosis and suggestions to alter pain perception were investigated in hypnotizable subjects by using positron emission tomography (PET) measures of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) and electroencephalographic (EEG) measures of brain electrical activity. The experimental conditions included a restful state (Baseline) followed by hypnotic relaxation alone (Hypnosis) and by hypnotic relaxation with suggestions for altered pain unpleasantness (Hypnosis-with-Suggestion). During each scan, the left hand was immersed in neutral (35°C) or painfully hot (47°C) water in the first two conditions and in painfully hot water in the last condition. Hypnosis was accompanied by significant increases in both occipital rCBF and delta EEG activity, which were highly correlated with each other (r = 0.70, p < 0.0001). Peak increases in rCBF were also observed in the caudal part of the right anterior cingulate sulcus and bilaterally in the inferior frontal gyri. Hypnosis-related decreases in rCBF were found in the right inferior parietal lobule, the left precuneus, and the posterior cingulate gyrus. Hypnosis-with-suggestions produced additional widespread increases in rCBF in the frontal cortices predominantly on the left side. Moreover, the medial and lateral posterior parietal cortices showed suggestion-related increases overlapping partly with regions of hypnosis-related decreases. Results support a state theory of hypnosis in which occipital increases in rCBF and delta activity reflect the alteration of consciousness associated with decreased arousal and possible facilitation of visual imagery. Frontal increases in rCBF associated with suggestions for altered perception might reflect the verbal mediation of the suggestions, working memory, and top-down processes involved in the reinterpretation of the perceptual experience. These results provide a new description of the neurobiological basis of hypnosis, demonstrating specific patterns of cerebral activation associated with the hypnotic state and with the processing of hypnotic suggestions.