If you can't nod off then your brain could be to blame! Scientists discover why some people just can't be hypnotised
Those with a high attention span do better
But people with precise habits and a judgmental nature tend to struggle

Anna Hodgekiss


11:13 GMT, 5 October 2012



12:35 GMT, 5 October 2012

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
U.S. have discovered that people susceptible to hypnosis find it easier
to make decisions and have better attention spans.

Quick thinkers: People who are easily hypnotised are better at decision making and concentrating

Quick thinkers: People who are easily hypnotised are better at decision making and concentrating

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

The study was published in the October issue of 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.

Hypnosis: Performed by Derren Brown, it has been used to help manage pain and control stress

Hypnosis: Performed by Derren Brown, it has been used to help manage pain and control stress

Dr 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.

Dr 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 Dr. 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.

Dr 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.


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

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

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

not a cure, but eight out of ten patients say they feel 80 per cent
better, and can control their symptoms more by using this technique to
relax the muscles of the gut.

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

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

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