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Psychopharmacology journal coverMatthew Whalley contributed to a study investigating the effects of LSD upon suggestibility

As part of a larger study investigating the effects of LSD upon brain activity, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris and colleagues investigating whether suggestibility is affected by LSD. In line with other studies investigating drug effects upon suggestibility they found singificant suggestibility increases in the LSD condition compared to a placebo

Carhart-Harris, R. L., Kaelen, M., Whalley, M. G., Bolstridge, M., Feilding, A., Nutt, D. J. (2014). LSD enhances suggestibility in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, in press. Read abstract


Contemporary Hypnosis Journal CoverDavid Oakley, Val Walters and Matthew Whalley all contributed to a recent consensus definition of hypnosis, published in the latest editions of the journal 'Contemporary Hypnosis and Integrative Therapy'.

This article reports a consensus that was reached at an Advanced Workshop in Experimental Hypnosis held as part of the joint annual conference of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis (BSMDH) and the British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis (BSECH). The unanimous consensus was that the conventional definitions of hypnosis and hypnotizability are logically inconsistent and that at least one of them needed to be changed. Participants were divided between the alternatives of (1) broadening the operational definition of hypnosis so as to include responding to so-called waking suggestion and (2) limiting the term 'hypnotizability' to the effects of administering a hypnotic induction.

Kirsch, I., Cardeña, E., Derbyshire, S., Dienes, Z., Heap, M., Kallio, S., Mazzoni, G., Naish, P., Oakley, D., Potter, C., Walters, V., Whalley, M. (2011). Definitions of hypnosis and hypnotizability and their relation to suggestion and suggestibility: A consensus statement. Contemporary Hypnosis and Integrative Therapy, 28(9), 107-115.



Trends in cognitive sciences coverDavid Oakley and Peter Halligan have written a review of neuroscientific research involving hypnosis, published in the latest edition of the journal 'Trends in Cognitive Sciences'.

The growing acceptance of consciousness as a legitimate field of enquiry and the availability of functional imaging has rekindled research interest in the use of hypnosis and suggestion to manipulate subjective experience and to gain insights into healthy and pathological cognitive functioning. Current research forms two strands. The first comprises studies exploring the cognitive and neural nature of hypnosis itself. The second employs hypnosis to explore known psychological processes using specifically targeted suggestions. An extension of this second approach involves using hypnotic suggestion to create clinically informed analogues of established structural and functional neuropsychological disorders. With functional imaging, this type of experimental neuropsychopathology offers a productive means of investigating brain activity involved in many symptom-based disorders and their related phenomenology.

Oakley, D. A., Halligan, P. W. (2009). Hypnotic suggestion and cognitive neuroscience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 6, 264-270. Read article (PDF)


Psychopharmacology journal coverMatthew Whalley and Gabby Brooks (an HUUK graduate) have published research in the journal Psychopharmacology demonstrating that nitrous oxide (laughing gas), a commonly used sedative in dentistry and anaesthetics, can increase suggestibility and imaginative ability.

They asked 30 volunteers to come to a dental surgery to take part in a suggestibility testing study on two occasions. One time they inhaled 25% nitrous oxide, the other time they inhaled normal air. At each visit the volunteers were given a standardised test of suggestibility, and a measure of imaginative ability. Participants were also asked about whether they expected the drug to affect their suggestibility. They found that nitrous oxide increases suggestibility and imaginative ability by about 10%. When they asked volunteers which session they had received the drug they weren't very accurate at identifying the right session, so they believe that this increase in suggestibility is a real drug effect and not just a boost caused by positive expectations.

This is good news for dentists who commonly use nitrous oxide as a sedative. Dentists have long been suspected that patients are more suggestible when they are given the drug, but this is the first time that it has been demonstrated using standardised measures. A relatively low dose of nitrous oxide was used (volunteers couldn't even reliably identify when they got the drug) so it might be possible to boost suggestibility further, and adding a hypnotic induction could boost suggestibility still further.

Whalley, M. G., Brooks, G. B. (2009). Enhancement of suggestibility and imaginative ability with nitrous oxide. Psychopharmacology, 203, 745-752. Read article (PDF)


European Journal of Pain coverStuart Derbyshire, Matthew Whalley, and David Oakley have published a study examining how the brain responds to pain and hypnosis. 

They used hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestions to modify the pain experiences of patients suffering from fibromyalgia, and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity while this was taking place. They found that both hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion were effective at modifying pain, but that hypnotic suggestions led to more activity in a number of regions involved in pain experience.

Derbyshire, S. W. G., Whalley, M. G., Oakley, D. A. (2008). Fibromyalgia pain and its modulation by hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion: an fMRI study. European Journal of Pain, 13, 542-550. Read article (PDF)