November 18, 2012
Effect Of Trance-like States On The Brain Studied Using Brazilian Mediums
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In this week´s online open source journal PLOS ONE, a new study details how brain activity affects individuals who engage in psychography. Psychography, or automatic writing, is a technique used by mediums in an effort to free-write messages from the deceased or from spirits.Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil embarked on this study, analyzing the cerebral blood flow (CBF) of Brazilian mediums during this mystical practice. What the team was able to determine was that the brain activity of the mediums underwent a significant decrease in activity when they would enter this mediumistic dissociative state.
To collect the data, researchers selected 10 mediums and injected them with a radioactive tracer that would allow them to visualize their brain activity during both normal writing and also during the practice of psychography. Of the 10 mediums observed in the study, five were considered as experienced while the other five were less expert. To observe the brain activity, researchers employed the use of SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), allowing them to conclusively view the brain and the areas within it that were active and inactive at different times during the experiment.
"Spiritual experiences affect cerebral activity, this is known. But, the cerebral response to mediumship, the practice of supposedly being in communication with, or under the control of the spirit of a deceased person, has received little scientific attention, and from now on new studies should be conducted," says Andrew Newberg, MD, director of Research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine and a nationally-known expert on spirituality and the brain, who collaborated with Julio F. P. Peres, Clinical Psychologist, PhD in Neuroscience and Behavior, Institute of Psychology at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and colleagues on the research.
With between 15 and 47 years of automatic writing experience, and having performed the act as many as 18 times a month, each of the mediums was also right-handed, found to be in satisfactory mental health and not currently using any type of psychiatric drugs. Each medium was able to report that during the study, the trance-like state associated with psychography was achieved and that during the normal writing control task each was in a regular state of consciousness.
The data collected from both the experienced and non-expert mediums showed two different outcomes. The researchers noted that while the experienced psychographers showed a lowered level of activity, the less-expert psychographers showed an increase in CBF in the same observed area. The area that the SPECT focused on was the left hippocampus (limbic system), right superior temporal gyrus, and the frontal lobe regions of the left anterior cingulated and right precentral gyrus during both the act of psychography as compared to their normal, non-trance writing. This region has been deemed to be important due to its association with reasoning, planning, generating language, movement and problem solving. The lowered activity for the experienced mediums suggests, according to researchers, an absence of focus, self-awareness and consciousness during psychography.
As mentioned, the less expert psychographers presented data that showed the opposite from their more experienced counterparts. Their increased levels of CBF in the same frontal areas may be related to their more purposeful attempt at performing psychography.
The team pointed out that as none of the mediums had current mental disorders, their data supports currently held evidence that dissociative experiences are not uncommon in the general population and are not necessarily indicative of a mental disorder, especially when experienced in a religious or spiritual context. They do believe that additional research should be conducted to specifically address criteria for distinguishing between both healthy and pathological dissociative expression as it relates to mediumship.
The team also performed a detailed analysis of the writing samples that were collected. What they determined was that the complexity scores for the trance-induced writing was much higher than the control writing was. The more experienced mediums showed the highest complexity scores, which one would think would actually require more CBF activity in the frontal and temporal lobes. The writings composed during psychography typically involved ethical principles, the importance of spirituality, and bringing together the fields of science and spirituality.
Researchers have developed a few different hypotheses for why they think their data showed what it did. The first states that as frontal lobe activity decreases, the areas of the brain that support mediumistic writing are further disinhibited so that the overall complexity can increase. This process is similar to what is seen during alcohol and drug use. According to Newberg, “While the exact reason is at this point elusive, our study suggests there are neurophysiological correlates of this state."
"This first-ever neuroscientific evaluation of mediumistic trance states reveals some exciting data to improve our understanding of the mind and its relationship with the brain. These findings deserve further investigation both in terms of replication and explanatory hypotheses," states Newberg.