Hypnosis as a model of functional neurologic disorders

Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;139:95-103. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-801772-2.00009-6.


In the 19th century it was recognized that neurologic symptoms could be caused by "morbid ideation" as well as organic lesions. The subsequent observation that hysteric (now called "functional") symptoms could be produced and removed by hypnotic suggestion led Charcot to hypothesize that suggestion mediated the effects of ideas on hysteric symptoms through as yet unknown effects on brain activity. The advent of neuroimaging 100 years later revealed strikingly similar neural correlates in experiments matching functional symptoms with clinical analogs created by suggestion. Integrative models of suggested and functional symptoms regard these alterations in brain function as the endpoint of a broader set of changes in information processing due to suggestion. These accounts consider that suggestions alter experience by mobilizing representations from memory systems, and altering causal attributions, during preconscious processing which alters the content of what is provided to our highly edited subjective version of the world. Hypnosis as a model for functional symptoms draws attention to how radical alterations in experience and behavior can conform to the content of mental representations through effects on cognition and brain function. Experimental study of functional symptoms and their suggested counterparts in hypnosis reveals the distinct and shared processes through which this can occur.

Keywords: Charcot; Janet; agency; brain; conversion; cultural neuroscience; dissociation; fMRI; functional neurological symptoms; hypnosis; hysteria; psychogenic; suggestion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Conversion Disorder / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nervous System Diseases / psychology*