In 2000 my instructors and students at our school (The Minnesota Institute of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy) completed two research projects that confirmed that hypnosis can relieve pain in most people to a significant degree and in some people…altogether. Modeling the ingenious work of Ernest Hilgard, we discovered that his research was indeed valid and replicable. This was crucial research that gives people who suffer from fibromyalgia and chronic pain real hope for long-term improvement.
Now, four years later, Virginia Tech has completed a project that brings us to the next level of understanding and causes us to ask more questions!
Helen Crawford knows from previous research that some people can use hypnosis to eliminate or ameliorate pain. Her quest now is to determine why those people can – and others can’t.
Crawford, professor of psychology in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, researches the neurophysiology of hypnosis, pain control, and attention, and, more recently, the genetic determinants of hypnotisability. Her work has such a presence in the international world of hypnosis research and has made such lasting contributions that she received the 2003 Ernest R. Hilgard Award for Scientific Excellence from the International Society of Hypnosis.
Crawford is working with scientists in Israel on the genetic determinants of hypnotisability. They have shown that there are genetic underpinnings to hypnotic susceptibility.
They demonstrated a relationship between hypnotic responsiveness and a genotype that predicts performance on prefrontal executive (supervisory) cognition and working memory tasks. This finding supports Crawford’s model of hypnosis that highly hypnotizable people “have a stronger attentional filtering system associated with the far fronto-limbic attentional system” than do people who are not as hypnotizable.
Crawford previously proposed that, during hypnotic analgesia, the anterior frontal cortex of the brain plays a major role in “an inhibitory feedback circuit that co-operates in the regulation of thalamocortical activities.” Her work has examined the neurophysiological correlates of hypnosis and pain control using brain-wave activity and functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques.
Her neuroimaging studies demonstrate that, during hypnotic analgesia, the executive functions of highly hypnotisable people’s frontal lobe can better work with other parts of the brain in inhibiting the perception of pain from coming to consciousness.
Kevin Hogan is the author of eleven books, including the New Hypnotherapy Handbook.