CAPE tOWN. 230810. Hypnotist Andrew Newton talks about his craft. Picture ian Landsberg

London - It is certainly one of the more mysterious medical treatments. But one question has always remained: why can some people be hypnotised and others can’t?

The answer, it seems, may well lie with our decision-making ability.

Scientists at Stanford University in the US have discovered that people susceptible to hypnosis find it easier to make decisions and have better attention spans.

On the other hand, those who are precise in their habits and make judgments quickly are less likely to succumb.

The study was published in Archives of General Psychiatry.

Hypnosis is described as a trance-like state during which a person has a heightened focus and concentration. It has been used to help manage pain, control anxiety and combat phobias. It’s also increasingly being used to reduce conditions linked to stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

But Dr David Spiegel, who led the research, says up to a quarter of people he sees cannot be hypnotised.

To try and establish why, he scanned 12 people who were susceptible to hypnosis and 12 who were not.

Spiegel and his colleagues found no differences between the typical structures of the two groups’ brains.

But when they looked at the subjects’ brains at rest, they noticed the brains of the easily hypnotised people behaved differently: they were most active in areas that decide what to focus on.

Spiegal told the Los Angeles Times: “The highly hypnotisable are people who can readily immerse themselves in thinking about things without having their attention interrupted by pesky reminders of reality or of competing cognitive demands.

“They can harness their minds to imagine something about themselves – and make it so.”

In everyday life, says Spiegel, these high hypnotisable people are notably different than their less hynotisable peers.

“They get side-tracked by sunsets and lost in movies; they tend to show up three hours late for things because they lost track of time.”

By contrast, those who are resistant to hypnosis tend to be more judgmental, fastidious in their habits and less trusting of people.

The researchers looked at the activity of three different networks in the brain: the default-mode network, used when the brain is idle; the executive-control network, which is involved in making decisions; and the salience network, which is involved in prioritising.

Both groups had an active default-mode network, but people who could be easily hypnotised had more activity between the decision-making and prioritising networks.

They also had more activation between an important control region of the brain and the area involved in focusing attention.

In people who struggled to be hypnotised there was little connectivity between these two regions.

Spiegal said the results came close to finding a “brain signature” which reveals who can and cannot be hypnotised.

The hope is to use this to shed light on how hypnosis could be more widely used to combat pain, ease stress and overcome phobias. – Daily Mail


One condition that hypnosis has been shown to significantly improve the symptoms of is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The condition is thought to affect one in five people and is characterised by symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, painful cramping, bloating and flatulence.

Gut-directed hypnotherapy was pioneered by IBS expert Peter Whorwell, professor of medicine and gastroenterology at the University of Manchester.

It’s not a cure, but eight out of 10 patients say they feel 80 percent better, and can control their symptoms more by using this technique to relax the muscles of the gut.

Patients are hypnotised into a deeply relaxed state and asked to place their hand on their stomach and generate feelings of warmth and comfort.

The therapist then suggests that patients use this action to create similar feelings of comfort when they feel symptoms coming on in the future.

Patients are given an audio recording to use daily to reinforce the positive suggestions. – Daily Mail