BBC News released an article: ” Hypnosis has ‘real’ brain

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Hypnosis has a “very real” effect that can be picked up on brain scans,
say Hull University researchers.

An imaging study of hypnotised participants showed decreased activity in
the parts of the brain linked with daydreaming or letting the mind wander.

The same brain patterns were absent in people who had the tests but who
were not susceptible to being hypnotised.

One psychologist said the study backed the theory that hypnosis “primes”
the brain to be open to suggestion.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) issued the following news release:

Meditation May Increase Gray Matter

Push-ups, crunches, gyms, personal trainers — people have many
strategies for building bigger muscles and stronger bones.

But what can one do to build a bigger brain?

That’s the finding from a group of researchers at UCLA who used high-
resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people
who meditate. In a study published in the journal NeuroImage and
currently available online (by subscription), the researchers report
that certain regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger
than in a similar control group.

Specifically, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the
hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and
the inferior temporal gyrus — all regions known for regulating emotions.

“We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability
to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in
mindful behavior,” said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral
research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. “The observed
differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have
these exceptional abilities.”

Research has confirmed the beneficial aspects of meditation. In addition
to having better focus and control over their emotions, many people who
meditate regularly have reduced levels of stress and bolstered immune
systems. But less is known about the link between meditation and brain


The new issue of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science’s journal *Science* (Vol. 324. no. 5926) includes an article:
“Neuroscience: A Quest for Compassion – Guided by a passionate leader, a
new research institute hopes to draw lessons from Buddhism to study
altruism and make the world a better place” by Greg Miller.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Back in 2000, James Doty was living the high life.


At 45, he was planning to retire, donate a large chunk of his fortune to
charity, and divide his time between his three idyllic homes while doing
medical volunteer work in developing countries.

Last month, Doty was standing behind a lectern at Stanford University in
Palo Alto, California, explaining how he’d lost it all in the dot-com bust.

“Within 6 weeks, I was $3 million in the hole,” he said.


But he decided, against the advice of friends and family, to follow
through with stock donations that he’d promised before the crash to a
handful of universities and health charities.

(By holding on to the stock until the market recovered, the recipients
ultimately received nearly $30 million.)

Doty says that losing his material wealth made him more reflective.

“Becoming completely detached from something you think you need is an
interesting exercise,” he said, his voice catching with emotion.

“What you realize is … it doesn’t define you as a person.”

His face flushed, he seemed unable to continue.


It was an unusually personal speech for an academic conference, but it
was also an unusual conference.

The audience included psychologists, philosophers, economists,
neuroscientists, and theologians who’d gathered for 2 days to inaugurate
a new center at Stanford for the scientific study of compassion.


Witnessing another person’s physical pain registers more quickly in the brain than compassion for social or psychological pain, but the latter leaves a much longer-lasting impression.

New brain-imaging research showed an almost immediate “wince” reaction to seeing someone’s physical pain. By contrast the brain took 6 to 8 seconds to respond to stories about social or psychological pain — a very long time considering that neurons fire within milliseconds. However, the brain’s response to social or psychological situations lingered for much longer than the response to physical pain. That may suggest a more complex thought process, compared to the instinctive evolutionary reaction to physical pain.

Compassion for another person’s social or psychological pain also activated some of the same brain areas triggered by compassion for physical pain, and particularly the region responsible for gut feelings, known as the anterior insula.

“It’s almost as if we have a body in which to play out feelings about other people’s situations, but that body is subdivided between the musculoskeletal system and the gut,” Immordino-Yang noted.

The full research is detailed in the April 13 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Full article:

By Jeremy Hsu, Staff Writer

Neuroimaging studies are helping hypnosis shed its ‘occult’ connotations by finding that its effects on the brain are real.

By Lea Winerman
Monitor Staff

Mention hypnosis, and for many people the image that comes to mind is a charlatan with a watch swinging back and forth, seducing otherwise sensible audiences into barking like dogs or clucking like chickens. Today, though, psychologists and others are using hypnosis to help patients stop smoking, lose weight or control pain. But despite this newfound respect for the method, scientists still aren’t sure precisely how hypnosis–whether on stage or in a clinician’s office–works.

For years, they’ve been trying to determine whether hypnotized people actually feel and see things differently than the nonhypnotized or whether the hypnotized give in to some combination of concentration and social pressure to follow hypnotists’ demands.

Now, in the past decade or so and with the advent of neuroimaging technology like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have begun to get some answers.

Recent studies have found that when hypnotized people act on hypnotists’ suggestions, their brains really do process information differently. When they’re told to see colors, for example, the color-processing parts of their brains light up–despite the absence of any real color in front of them.


New findings


Another experiment found that hypnotically induced pain activated the same brain areas as “real” pain. In this 2004 study, published in Neuroimage (Vol. 23, No. 1, pages 392–401), University College London psychologist David Oakley, PhD, and his colleagues told eight highly hypnotizable participants that they would feel heat-related pain. They found that the same pain-processing areas of the brain–in the thalamus, anterior cingulate cortex and other areas–were active in those subjects as in subjects who actually touched a 120-degree metal probe. Subjects who simply imagined the pain, meanwhile, didn’t show the same active brain areas.

The interpretation

The accumulating evidence suggests that people respond to hypnotic suggestion by actually “feeling” or “seeing” the suggested stimulus, be it pain or color.

The question that researchers have yet to answer, Oakley says, is how those changes come about. Scientists are still split on the issue: Some believe that hypnosis puts people into a trance state in which the brain behaves measurably differently than it does in other states. Others, meanwhile, believe that hypnosis is simply an intense form of concentration or focused attention.


“We now have evidence showing that highly hypnotizable people do not need to be hypnotized in order to benefit from suggestion,” Raz says. That indicates that hypnosis may be a normal state of consciousness rather than an altered state–and that some people who are particularly good at experiencing imaginative suggestions are the ones who can be hypnotized, Kirsch explains.

Meanwhile, researchers who believe that hypnosis alters the brain’s functioning in some fundamental way say that the new findings don’t negate that possibility. John Gruzelier, PhD, a psychologist at Imperial College in London, acknowledges that easily hypnotizable people are more suggestible even when not hypnotized. However, he says, the hypnosis itself still makes a difference.

“It’s my feeling that we wouldn’t bother going through the whole rigmarole of hypnosis if it was unnecessary,” he says.

Raz and Kirsch hope that this and other work will also begin to help explain why some people are more highly hypnotizable than others, and will give researchers insight into who is most likely to benefit from hypnosis.

Monitor on Psychology
Volume 37, No. 3 March 2006
the complete article can be found here

Putting pen to paper is said to help the brain “regulate emotion” and reduces feelings of anxiety, fear and sadness.

Researchers claim the act of writing about personal experiences has a cathartic effect because it inhibits parts of the brain linked to emotional turmoil, and increases activity in the region to do with self-control.

Now they hope to develop therapies based on their findings that could be used to ease social fears and phobias.

Dr Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, outlined his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in a lecture called Putting Feelings Into Words.

He said that expressing yourself in print was “a sort of unintentional emotion regulation”.

“It seems to regulate our distress,” he added. “I don’t think that people sit down in order to regulate their emotions but there is a benefit.

“I think it could play a role in why many people write diaries or write bad lyrics to songs – the kind that should never be played on the radio.”

Dr Lieberman proved the therapeutic power of writing by scanning the brains of 30 individuals while they described distressing pictures.

He found that the act tended to reduce activity in the amygala, a part of the brain connected with emotion and fear and increased activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the mind’s regulator.

This suggests that the mere action of writing about an emotion was a way of calming down the brain and re-establishing mental balance.

Often the author is unaware of the therapeutic effect of the task, it was claimed.

“If you ask people then they don’t think that it serves an emotion regulation but when you look at the brain that looks like what is going on,” he added.

“The more frontal activity we see, the less amydala response. There seems to be a see-saw affect.”

In another trial, writing was used in conjunction with exposure therapy for people who had a phobia of spiders.

It was discovered that writing about their fears actually boosted the effect of the therapy compared with people who did not put pen to paper.

“We do think that it has clinical applications,” Dr Lieberman said.

“People expressing negative emotional responses in words while being exposed gave them greater attenuation (reduction) of fear.”

Dr Lieberman said that the effect was negated if the writing was too vivid or descriptive because it led to people reliving their trauma. Also, typing was not as good as writing long-hand.

“You have to write about it in a detached way,” he said.

Asked why writers were often troubled souls, he said that the writing itself may be a reaction to severe emotional problems.

“I am sure that it is one of their motivators to write,” he said. “You have to ask yourself what they would be like without the writing.”

The University of Missouri-Columbia issued the following news release:

Selflessness, Core Of All Major World Religions, Has Neuropsychological

All spiritual experiences are based in the brain. That statement is
truer than ever before, according to a University of Missouri
neuropsychologist. An MU study has data to support a neuropsychological
model that proposes spiritual experiences associated with selflessness
are related to decreased activity in the right parietal lobe of the brain.

The study is one of the first to use individuals with traumatic brain
injury to determine this connection. Researchers say the implication of
this connection means people in many disciplines, including peace
studies, health care or religion can learn different ways to attain
selflessness, to experience transcendence, and to help themselves and others.

This study, along with other recent neuroradiological studies of
Buddhist meditators and Francescan nuns, suggests that all individuals,
regardless of cultural background or religion, experience the same
neuropsychological functions during spiritual experiences, such as
transcendence. Transcendence, feelings of universal unity and decreased
sense of self, is a core tenet of all major religions. Meditation and
prayer are the primary vehicles by which such spiritual transcendence is

“The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences,”
said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the MU School of
Health Professions. “We studied people with brain injury and found that
people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported
higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.”

This link is important, Johnstone said, because it means selflessness
can be learned by decreasing activity in that part of the brain. He
suggests this can be done through conscious effort, such as meditation
or prayer. People with these selfless spiritual experiences also are
more psychologically healthy, especially if they have positive beliefs
that there is a God or higher power who loves them, Johnstone said.

“This research also addresses questions regarding the impact of
neurologic versus cultural factors on spiritual experience,” Johnstone
said. “The ability to connect with things beyond the self, such as
transcendent experiences, seems to occur for people who minimize right
parietal functioning. This can be attained through cultural practices,
such as intense meditation or prayer or because of a brain injury that
impairs the functioning of the right parietal lobe. Either way, our
study suggests that ‘selflessness’ is a neuropsychological foundation of
spiritual experiences.”

The research was funded by the MU Center on Religion and the
Professions. The study – “Support for a neuropsychological model of
spirituality in persons with traumatic brain injury” – was published in
the peer-reviewed journal Zygon.

“Our research focused on the personal experience of spiritual
transcendence and does not in any way minimize the importance of
religion or personal beliefs, nor does it suggest that spiritual
experience are related only to neuropsychological activity in the
brain,” Johnstone said. “It is important to note that individuals
experience their God or higher power in many different ways, but that
all people from all religions and beliefs appear to experience these
connections in a similar way.”

The new issue of the American Medical Association’s *American Medical
News* includes an article: “Steps to a nimble mind: Physical and mental
exercise help keep the brain fit; Neuroscience is uncovering techniques
to prevent cognitive decline” by Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli.

Some key points: life-long learning, trying new things, a healthy diet, social interactions, sleep and physical activity keep the brain fit

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

The brain — containing 100 billion neurons, 900 billion glial cells,
100 trillion branches and 1,000 trillion receptors — reacts to stimuli
in a series of electrical bursts, spanning a complex map of
connections. Whether calculating an algorithmic equation or learning
the tango, our brain continuously changes in response to our ideas,
actions and activities.

Each time a dance step is learned, for instance, new pathways are
formed. “Dancing is excellent for the brain and body,” says Vincent
Fortanasce, MD, clinical professor of neurology at the University of
Southern California in Los Angeles. He wrote the Anti-Alzheimer’s
Prescription. “Not only are you moving around more, your brain is in
constant motion as it recalls steps and movements.”

It’s an example that highlights a wave of new thinking about the
importance of brain fitness.


The Dec 2007 issue of *Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience* (vol. 2,
#4) includes a study: “Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation
reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference.”

The article is by Norman A. S. Farb, Zindel V. Segal, Helen Mayberg, Jim
Bean, Deborah McKeon, Zainab Fatima, & Adam K. Anderson.

Here’s the abstract: “It has long been theorised that there are two
temporally distinct forms of self-reference: extended self-reference
linking experiences across time, and momentary self-reference centred on
the present. To characterise these two aspects of awareness, we used
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine monitoring of
enduring traits (‘narrative’ focus, NF) or momentary experience
(‘experiential’ focus, EF) in both novice participants and those having
attended an 8 week course in mindfulness meditation, a program that
trains individuals to develop focused attention on the present. In
novices, EF yielded focal reductions in self-referential cortical
midline regions (medial prefrontal cortex, mPFC) associated with NF. In
trained participants, EF resulted in more marked and pervasive
reductions in the mPFC, and increased engagement of a right lateralised
network, comprising the lateral PFC and viscerosomatic areas such as the
insula, secondary somatosensory cortex and inferior parietal lobule.
Functional connectivity analyses further demonstrated a strong coupling
between the right insula and the mPFC in novices that was uncoupled in
the mindfulness group. These results suggest a fundamental neural
dissociation between two distinct forms of self-awareness that are
habitually integrated but can be dissociated through attentional
training: the self across time and in the present moment.

*Boston Globe* 2/24/2008 includes an article: “Grape expectations:
What wine can tell us about the nature of reality” by Jonah Lehrer.

Here’s the article:

SCIENTISTS AT CALTECH and Stanford recently published the results of a
peculiar wine tasting. They provided people with cabernet sauvignons at
various price points, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the
tasters were told that all the wines were different, the scientists were
in fact presenting the same wines at different prices.

The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted
better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.