Some People Can Hallucinate Colors At Will

in medicine, biology

Scientists have found that some people have the ability to hallucinate colours at will – even without the help of hypnosis. The study focused on a group of people that had shown themselves to be ‘highly suggestible’ in hypnosis.

The study was published this week in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

The subjects were asked to look at a series of monochrome patterns and to see colour in them. They were tested under hypnosis and without hypnosis and both times reported that they were able to see colours.

Individuals’ reactions to the patterns were also captured using an MRI scanner, which enabled the researchers to monitor differences in brain activity between the suggestible and non-suggestible subjects. The results of the research, showed significant changes in brain activity in areas of the brain responsible for visual perception among the suggestible subjects only.

Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, lead researcher on the project says: “These are very talented people. They can change their perception and experience of the world in ways that the rest of us cannot.”

The ability to change experience at will can be very useful. Research has shown that hypnotic suggestions can be used to block pain and increase the effectiveness of psychotherapy.

It has always been assumed that hypnosis was needed for these effects to occur, but the new study suggests that this is not true. Although hypnosis does seem to heighten the subjects’ ability to see colour, the suggestible subjects were also able to see colours and change their brain activity even without the help of hypnosis.

The MRI scans also showed clearly that although it was not necessary for the subjects to be under hypnosis to be able to perceive colours in the tests, it was evident that hypnosis increased the ability of the subjects to experience these effects.

Dr William McGeown, who also contributed to the study, says: “Many people are afraid of hypnosis, although it appears to be very effective in helping with certain medical interventions, particularly pain control. The work we have been doing shows that certain people may benefit from suggestion without the need for hypnosis.”

The study, which was partially funded by the BBC, used a control group formed of less suggestible people, or people less likely to respond to hypnosis. It was found that this group of people were not able to hallucinate colour and, again, these reported results were supported by MRI scans.

Summary of the research article:  Color perception can be altered without using hypnosis as well as with hypnosis. Hypnosis provides a moderate but significant boost to color altering ability. The deeper the level of hypnosis the greater the ability to alter perception. The ability to be hypnotized deeply relates to more color change out of hypnosis. Less default mode activity in hypnosis at rest correlated with activity on the task.

Science Story Reference: 

Suggested visual hallucination without hypnosis enhances activity in visual areas of the brain. William J. McGeown, Annalena Venneri, Irving Kirsch, Luca Nocetti, Kathrine Roberts, Lisa Foan, Giuliana Mazzoni. Consciousness and Cognition, Corrected Proof, Available online 26 November 2011.
 

Additional Sources: 

University of Hull

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