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Brain Res Bull. 2000 Sep 1;53(1):105-11.

Changes in autonomic and EEG patterns induced by hypnotic imagination of aversive stimuli in man.

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Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.


Autonomic and electroencephalographic (EEG) responses to aversive stimuli presented by means of hypnotic suggestion have been studied in man.Healthy volunteers with simple phobia were screened for susceptibility to hypnosis. The experimental paradigm included periods of rest during which the hypnotized subjects were asked to produce an emotionally neutral mental image and periods of emotional activation in which they were asked to image a phobic object. Heart rate (HR), respiratory frequency (RF) and EEG were processed to obtain the HR-related indexes of sympatho-vagal balance and the EEG spectral components. The results showed a significant increase in HR and RF with a shift of the sympatho-vagal indexes towards a sympathetic predominance during the hypnotic emotional activation. EEG activity showed a significant increase in the gamma band with a left fronto-central prevalence. There was also a less pronounced increase in the beta band. In conclusion, by means of hypnosis, autonomic and behavioral responses to fear-like stimuli can be induced in man in a reproducible and controlled manner. Such a paradigm could be applied in human neuroimaging studies to identify central nervous structures that modulate stress and fear-related reactions.

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