NLP and hypnosis-related scientific studies

For me, brain research provides a fascinating peek into what goes on “under the hood” when we do NLP. Sometimes the information is useful for doing NLP. Often it verifies what NLPers have known or suspected for years. Sometimes it’s just interesting or fun.

Abstract thought prompts literal physical responses

Researcher subjects literally lean forward when thinking about the future, backward when thinking about the past. According to Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam, “How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body. We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.”

Music in speech correlates with empathy in heart

The same brain region (Broca’s area) understands and produces intonation in speech. The higher a person scores on standard tests of empathy, the more activity they have in their prosody-producing areas of the brain.

In NLP terms, I suspect that more prosody and more empathy correlate with association — something we NLPers have all observed in practice.

Brain scans show how hypnosis can paralyze a limb

Under hypnotic suggestion that they couldn’t move their hand, the subjects’ motor cortex prepared for movement as usual. But then, instead of communicating with the brain area used in controlling movement, the motor cortex instead acted more in sync with an area used in mental imagery and memory about oneself.

More detailed article about brain scans exploring hypnosis:

Deciphering the brain’s dictionary

Using nouns in different categories, researchers were able to correlate which brain areas activated to think about different types of nouns. They were then able to predict which brain areas would light up when exposed to novel nouns. They could even identify which of a list of 60 terms subjects were thinking of.

What does this have to do with NLP? For years researchers have known that human brains have functional modules, called inference systems, for perceiving and thinking about certain types of information. Information that “interests” one or more inference system tends to be more memorable. This experiment identified 3 factors the brain uses to categorize nouns:

  1. how you physically interact with the object (how you hold it, kick it, twist it, etc.);
  2. how it is related to eating (biting, sipping, tasting, swallowing); and
  3. how it is related to shelter or enclosure.

Folk tales, which persist because they are memorable, often include odd combinations of these factors — such as a pumpkin big enough to live in (food + shelter), or a house made out of a giant shoe (physical interaction + shelter). Can we NLPers use these categories to help people memorize information?

Brain scans show similarities between memories and imagination

Brain scientists used to think that imagining the future happened almost entirely in the brain’s frontal lobes. This 2007 study showed that “All the regions that we know are important for memory are just as important when we imagine our future,” according to researcher Karl Szpunar.

We NLPers know that imagining the future involves sensory representations, so we could have predicted that sensory and motor areas of the brain would activate.

For years I have read accounts of research in neuroscience and neuropsychology, and wondered, “Why don’t these labs have skilled NLP modelers on staff?” I’m still wondering…



Extra: video “The world needs all kinds of minds” by autistic Temple Grandin.


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