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How the mind controls the brain: A systematic neuroimaging study of attention and inhibitory executive control in hypnosis

English title How the mind controls the brain: A systematic neuroimaging study of attention and inhibitory executive control in hypnosis
Applicant Vuilleumier Patrik
Number 127560
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Dépt des Neurosciences Fondamentales Faculté de Médecine Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Neurophysiology and Brain Research
Start/End 01.10.2009 - 28.02.2013
Approved amount 567'749.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Neurophysiology and Brain Research
Psychology

Keywords (10)

neuroscience; hypnosis; consciousness; attention; executive control; brain imaging; conversion disorders; self awareness; neuroimaging; fMRI.

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Hypnosis is a fascinating mental state providing a unique window on mechanisms of human consciousness and self-monitoring, and can have remarkable effects on a wide range of mental and physical processes. Clinical applications of hypnosis (such as reduced pain perception in surgery) clearly testify to the power of hypnotic effects on the human brain. However, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying these effects still remain very poorly known. Several theoretical accounts postulate a pivotal role for attentional filtering, inhibitory control, and mental imagery, but current data from cognitive psychology and neuroimaging remain inconclusive on the exact cerebral systems engaged during hypnotic suggestions, both in terms of the source and the site where executive or attentional control may take place. In previous work using functional resonance imaging (fMRI) in volunteers, the applicant and colleagues directly tested for the role of an active inhibition of motor function during hypnotic paralysis and could demonstrate specific increases in brain regions known to be involved in executive control and self-monitoring processes.. These findings led us to propose that hypnosis might act through an enhancement of executive control allowing behaviour and perception to be governed by mental representations generated through suggestion and imagery.The current project will further investigate these hypotheses by performing a series of systematic investigations on the neural circuits modulated by hypnosis across different cognitive domains (such as hypnotic paralysis, hypnotic amnesia and hypnotic blindness). We will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine how brain activity is modified during hypnotic suggestions that inhibit and distort motor, memory, and visual processing. We will also investigate the neural bases of individual differences in susceptibility and test whether these may correspond to differences in attention abilities.This research will provide a unique and systematic neuroscientific investigation of hypnotic effects on cognition, yielding novel and precious insights on the neural mechanisms underlying the striking influence of hypnosis on behaviour and consciousness.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Time-course of motor inhibition during hypnotic paralysis: EEG topographical and source analysis
Cojan Y (2013), Time-course of motor inhibition during hypnotic paralysis: EEG topographical and source analysis, in Cortex, 423.
[Analgesic placebo effect: contribution of the neurosciences].
Berna C, Cojan Y, Vuilleumier P, Desmeules J (2011), [Analgesic placebo effect: contribution of the neurosciences]., in Revue médicale suisse, 7(301), 1390-3.
Êtes-vous hypnotisable?
Cojan (2011), Êtes-vous hypnotisable?, in Pour la Science, 13.
Simulation, conversion or exaggeration. Evolution of the functionnal investigations. About a case in a rehabilitation setting
Luaute J, Saladini O, Cojan Y, Bellaiche S, Ciancia S, Garcia-Larrea L, Vuilleumier P, Comte JC, Obadia-Andre N, Luaute JP, Boisson D (2010), Simulation, conversion or exaggeration. Evolution of the functionnal investigations. About a case in a rehabilitation setting, in ANNALES MEDICO-PSYCHOLOGIQUES, 168(4), 306-310.
Functional brain imaging in a woman with spatial neglect due to conversion disorder
Saj A (2009), Functional brain imaging in a woman with spatial neglect due to conversion disorder, in JAMA, 2552.
Motor inhibition in hysterical conversion paralysis
Cojan Y, Waber L, Carruzzo A, Vuilleumier P (2009), Motor inhibition in hysterical conversion paralysis, in NeuroImage, 47(3), 1026-1037.
Motor inhibition in hysterical conversion paralysis.
Cojan Y (2009), Motor inhibition in hysterical conversion paralysis., in NeuroImage, 1026.
Functional brain imaging of psychogenic paralysis during conversion and hypnosis
Cojan Y, Functional brain imaging of psychogenic paralysis during conversion and hypnosis, in Hallett M (ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
CHU Grenoble France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel
SUVA, Sion Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
Hôpital Henry Gabrielle, Lyon France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Exchange of personnel
HUG, Anesthesiologie Switzerland (Europe)
- Publication
- Exchange of personnel

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Congrès de la Société Française de Neurophysiologie Individual talk Neurophysiologie des paralysies psychogènes: conversion et hypnose 21.01.2013 Paris, France Vuilleumier Patrik;
Cercle de Neuropsychologie et de Psychanalyse Individual talk Neurophysiologie des paralysies psychogènes: conversion et hypnose 30.11.2012 Bruxelles, Belgium Vuilleumier Patrik;
Congrès Français de Psychiatrie Individual talk Neurophysiologie des paralysies psychogènes: conversion et hypnose 27.11.2012 Paris, France Vuilleumier Patrik;
Current Topics in the Neurobiology of Consciousness Talk given at a conference brain and hypnosis 17.05.2012 Santiago, Chile, Chile Cojan Yann;
Forum Douleur Individual talk pain hypnosis and brain 19.05.2011 Lausanne, Switzerland Vuilleumier Patrik; Cojan Yann;
19th European Congress of Psychiatry-EPA Talk given at a conference Conversion and brain 12.03.2011 Vienna, Austria Cojan Yann;
Argentinian Society of Neuroscience Poster Brain, hypnosis and conversion 31.01.2011 Cordoba, Argentina, Argentina Cojan Yann;
German Association for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Talk given at a conference Conversion and brain 24.11.2010 Berlin, Germany Cojan Yann;
Association for Scientific Studies on Consciousness Talk given at a conference brain and hypnosis 24.06.2010 Toronto, Trinidad and Tobago Cojan Yann;
European Psychiatric Association Neuroimaging Section Talk given at a conference Brain and hypnosis 01.04.2010 Paris, France Vuilleumier Patrik;


Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Forum des sciences cognitives Poster 30.03.2013 Paris, France Cojan Yann; Pichon Swann;
Conférence Publique "Science of the Mind" Talk 24.11.2010 Berne , Switzerland Vuilleumier Patrik;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: radio, television Hypnose RTS Western Switzerland 2013
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Le cerveau pendant la transe hypnotique LecturePsy International 2012
Talks/events/exhibitions café scientifique: Hypnose et états modifiés de conscience German-speaking Switzerland Western Switzerland 2011
Talks/events/exhibitions Nuit de la Science Western Switzerland 2011
Other activities Nombreuses autres activités publiques, interviews, blogs, etc German-speaking Switzerland Western Switzerland International 2010
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Hypnose Info website International 2009
Media relations: radio, television TV et radio Secrets de l'hypnose Western Switzerland 2009

Awards

Title Year
William James Award 2010

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
114014 Functional neuroanatomy of spatial cognition and neglect syndrome after stroke 01.10.2006 Project funding (Div. I-III)
143764 A prospective brain imaging study of self-monitoring in motor conversion disorder 01.03.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

Hypnosis is a fascinating condition providing a unique window on mechanisms of human consciousness and self-monitoring, and can have remarkable effects on a wide range of mental and physical processes. Clinical applications of hypnosis (such as reduced pain perception in surgery) clearly testify to the power of hypnotic effects on the human brain. However, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying these effects still remain very poorly known. Several theoretical accounts postulate a pivotal role for attentional filtering, inhibitory control, and mental imagery, but current data from cognitive psychology and neuroimaging remain inconclusive on the exact cerebral systems engaged during hypnotic suggestions, both in terms of the source and the site where executive or attentional control may take place. Many similarities between hypnotic phenomena and symptoms of conversion hysteria have been discussed since Charcot, but also remain speculative. In a recent study using functional resonance imaging (fMRI) in volunteers, the applicant and colleagues directly tested for the role of an active inhibition of motor function during hypnotic paralysis and could demonstrate specific increases in brain regions known to be involved in executive control and self-monitoring processes, most notably right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) and precuneus cortex (PCC), respectively, together with reduced activity in motor cortex. Further, this pattern differed from activations related to voluntary inhibition of movements. These novel findings led us to propose that hypnosis might act through an enhancement of executive control and attentional filtering (presumably involving rIFG) which could then allow behaviour and perception to be governed by internal representations generated through suggestion and imagery (presumably involving PCC). Importantly, this preliminary study also demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of our hypnotic procedures used for fMRI. In the current project, we now want to verify these hypotheses in other hypnotic conditions and to conduct a series of systematic investigations on the neural circuits modulated by hypnosis across different cognitive domains, namely, during hypnotic amnesia and hypnotic blindness. Specifically, by using fMRI in 3 different paradigms, we aim to test for a similar pivotal role of the rIFG and PCC in the inhibition and distortion of memory and visual processing under hypnosis, as well as other prefrontal regions (such as ACC and left PFC), and thus to determine whether (and how) our previous results in the motor domain can be generalized to these other conditions. In addition to demonstrating a central role of these areas in hypnosis across domains, our new studies will also reveal the neural sites (in memory or visual systems) where stimulus processing is modified by hypnosis.Study 1 investigates the neural substrates of hypnotic amnesia for pictures (scenes and faces), in comparison to normal recall and normal forgetting. We will ask whether suppression of memory will differentially recruit rIFG and/or ACC regions previously associated with inhibition of prepotent responses and voluntary forgetting. In addition, changes in self-referential processing in memory might also modulate activity in PCC, together with other regions involved in explicit memory retrieval (such as hippocampus).Study 2 investigates the neural substrates of hypnotic blindness for peripheral visual field, in comparison to normal perception and voluntary inattention for the peripheral visual stimuli. Again, we will ask whether suppression of visual awareness will also recruit rIFG and/or ACC, in addition to PCC and to changes in the sensory responses of visual cortical areas.Study 3 investigates the theoretical notion that individual differences in susceptibility may correspond to differences in attention abilities, by using a novel flanker task which requires selective responding to central targets while ignoring visually similar peripheral distractors. We will ask whether attentional filtering of distractors is more efficient in highly hypnotizable subjects, and reflect differences in the recruitment of inhibitory regions in ACC and IFG, and will test whether these individual differences exist at baseline or arise under hypnosis only.Finally, whenever possible, in auxiliary studies, we will extent our investigations to patients who present with conversion hysteria involving the same cognitive domains (psychogenic amnesia or blindness). By using similar fMRI paradigms in these patients to test for their losses in memory or losses in visual perception, we will be able to systematically compare the patterns of brain activity observed during hypnotic inhibition of memory or vision, with those observed for hysterical inhibition. This research will therefore provide a unique and systematic investigation of hypnotic effects on cognition, yielding novel and precious insights on the neural mechanisms underlying the striking influence of hypnosis on behaviour and consciousness, and illuminating their possible relationship with clinical manifestations in conversion hysteria.
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