Hypnosis and pain perception: An Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies

J Physiol Paris. 2015 Dec;109(4-6):165-172. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2016.01.001. Epub 2016 Jan 8.


Background and objective: Several studies reported that hypnosis can modulate pain perception and tolerance by affecting cortical and subcortical activity in brain regions involved in these processes. We conducted an Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analysis on functional neuroimaging studies of pain perception under hypnosis to identify brain activation-deactivation patterns occurring during hypnotic suggestions aiming at pain reduction, including hypnotic analgesic, pleasant, or depersonalization suggestions (HASs).

Databases and data treatment: We searched the PubMed, Embase and PsycInfo databases; we included papers published in peer-reviewed journals dealing with functional neuroimaging and hypnosis-modulated pain perception. The ALE meta-analysis encompassed data from 75 healthy volunteers reported in 8 functional neuroimaging studies.

Results: HASs during experimentally-induced pain compared to control conditions correlated with significant activations of the right anterior cingulate cortex (Brodmann's Area [BA] 32), left superior frontal gyrus (BA 6), and right insula, and deactivation of right midline nuclei of the thalamus.

Conclusions: HASs during experimental pain impact both cortical and subcortical brain activity. The anterior cingulate, left superior frontal, and right insular cortices activation increases could induce a thalamic deactivation (top-down inhibition), which may correlate with reductions in pain intensity.

Keywords: Functional neuroimaging; Hypnoanalgesia; Hypnosis; Meta-analysis; Pain perception.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Pain Perception / physiology*