Hypnosis and top-down regulation of consciousness

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Oct;81(Pt A):59-74. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.02.002. Epub 2017 Feb 4.


Hypnosis is a unique form of top-down regulation in which verbal suggestions are capable of eliciting pronounced changes in a multitude of psychological phenomena. Hypnotic suggestion has been widely used both as a technique for studying basic science questions regarding human consciousness but also as a method for targeting a range of symptoms within a therapeutic context. Here we provide a synthesis of current knowledge regarding the characteristics and neurocognitive mechanisms of hypnosis. We review evidence from cognitive neuroscience, experimental psychopathology, and clinical psychology regarding the utility of hypnosis as an experimental method for modulating consciousness, as a model for studying healthy and pathological cognition, and as a therapeutic vehicle. We also highlight the relations between hypnosis and other psychological phenomena, including the broader domain of suggestion and suggestibility, and conclude by identifying the most salient challenges confronting the nascent cognitive neuroscience of hypnosis and outlining future directions for research on hypnosis and suggestion.

Keywords: Agency; Cognitive control; Metacognition; Placebo; Suggestibility; Suggestion; Therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis*
  • Metacognition / physiology*
  • Self-Control*