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Doctors Show Hypnosis Effects Brain

By Michael T. Packard, Contributing Writer

A speech delivered two weeks ago about a study conducted jointly by Harvard and Stanford on hypnosis revealed the steady move of this former pseudo-science into the medical mainstream, Harvard doctors say.

The study, conducted by Lindsley Professor of Psychology Stephen Kosslyn and Stanford Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science David Spiegel, showed that hypnosis is more than the power of suggestion as it measurably impacts the brain’s functioning.

The implications of this “mind over matter” phenomenon have major implications for both pain management and a variety of nonmedical spheres, Spiegel said.

“[Hypnosis] allows the body to substitute a complimentary sensation for pain,” he said. “Every doctor ought to be taught the simple techniques of hypnosis.”

Kosslyn said hypnosis, which he defined as a “state of focused attention,” may be able to aid individuals in a myriad of endeavors. For example, he said that competitive athletes could use hypnosis to enhance visualization exercises.

In their study, subjects examined grids that were either colored or black and white, first during normal consciousness and then under hypnosis.

Regardless of the actual tint of the grids, when hypnotized subjects believed they were looking at colored grids, the part of their brain that processes color vision displayed increased blood flow, according to Spiegel. But when they believed they were looking at black and white grids, decreased blood flow was recorded.

This study is not the only work “pushing the envelope” of hypnosis’ significance, according to Elvira Lang, associate professor of radiology at Harvard.

Lang said she is already working to blend hypnosis with some of today’s most complex and high-tech procedures.

Lang has found that hypnotized patients experienced less pain and stress both during and after operations. They also required fewer anesthetics than non-hypnotized patients.

She noted that Harvard has been conservative in encouraging research on hypnosis, but said that funding she received from the National Institute of Health and the Department of Defense has earned her a degree of independence.

Currently, Lang is studying pain and stress levels in women undergoing breast biopsies.

As part of her effort to train the next generation of scientists to be knowledgeable in hypnosis, she is seeking the assistance of graduate students with an interest in the technique.

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