Researchers from the Institute of Psychology in Sao Paulo, Brazil have been conducting some pretty interesting experiments with a few of the area’s psychic mediums in hopes of shedding light on what happens to the brain when it goes into a trance state.. and finally answer the question of whether or not there are people who can, in fact, communicate with the dead.
In their research article posted on November 16th titled “Neuroimaging during Trance State: A Contribution to the Study of Dissociation“, the researchers described their process of injecting a radioactive tracer into the brains of ten mediums, five very experienced and five fledgling, and used single photon emission computed tomography (or SPECT) to view how the activity in the subject’s brains changed when they went into trance.
For this particular experiment, scientists decided to focus on the act of automatic writing, a practice that has been around since the earliest days of spiritualism, through which the medium writes on behalf of what is generally assumed to be a spirit of the deceased. The results of their tests are interesting, to say the least.
In the more experienced mediums (with up to 47 years of automatic writing under their belts), the frontal lobe experienced far less activity than usual. What this generally indicates is that the areas most associated with creativity, language, movement, and focus were working less, meaning that the automatic writers (or psychographers) were indeed going into some sort of trance. On the inexperienced psychics? The total opposite. Their frontal lobes lit up, an indication that they were really trying to connect with something, indicating a not so trance-y state of concentration and focus.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the study was the writing samples that resulted. When analyzed for their complexity, the writing of the experienced mediums whose frontal lobes fuzzed out scored much higher than the inexperienced psychics who were actually trying. Or, to put it simply, the psychography that should have looked like the incoherent scribbling of a person half asleep actually made more sense than the writing samples from someone who was concentrating on communing with the dead.
So far, they can’t explain why that is. From the paper:
The fact that subjects produced complex content in a trance dissociative state suggests they were not merely relaxed, and relaxation seems an unlikely explanation for the underactivation of brain areas specifically related to the cognitive processing being carried out. This finding deserves further investigation both in terms of replication and explanatory hypotheses.
Does this mean that one can actually, through years of practice, “tune” themselves in to some sort of spiritual line of communication with the dead? Or is this merely evidence that the brain can be taught to induce disassociation? Either way, people are still going to think you’re creepy for doing it.