This recent article in the NY Times should be of interest to all hypnotists: “In Clue to Addiction, Brain Injury Halts Smoking“.
It seems that scientists have identified a specific region of the brain, called the insula, that acts as a gateway between the unconscious nervous system and the conscious rational mind. This region can take signals coming from the nervous system, and translates these into emotions that are associated with behaviors formed by the conscious part of a person (ie. “I am going to buy a pack of smokes”).
People with a damaged insula reported instant loss of craving for cigarettes, even if they were heavy smokers. Luckily, these people did not lose their natural desire for things such as food, breathing or sleep. It seems only learned behaviors or habits like smoking are affected by this insula damage.
This adds an interesting dimension to commonly understood models of why hypnosis is effective, where the mind is viewed as being divided into unconscious, subconscious and conscious roles. It would be good to see if any studies show hypnosis has a direct affect on this insula region of the brain.
Even though smoking cessation is a bread-and-butter issue for professional hypnotists, I somehow doubt that voluntary insula damage will become a popular method of quitting smoking anytime soon. But eventually, scientists will surely be able to solve this bad habit with some sort of technical solution. In fact, I would think that theoretically all human problems that hypnotists typically address would eventually be solvable using some sort of technology that directly modifies the brain. But cultural and social barriers would make that sort of thing only appealing to the ultra-bleeding-edge of society. After all, many people are still frightened about the possibility of a hypnotist “messing with your mind” just by using words!
Then again, maybe society will decide that certain addictions or behaviors are so harmful, that in those cases it will become mandatory to submit to insula modification.
Things are definitely going to get interesting in the years ahead!
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