Scientists Inject Radiation into Psychic Mediums' Brains, Get Creeped Out

Scientists Inject Radiation into Psychic Mediums’ Brains, Get Creeped Out

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.

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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.

Share your thoughts about the study with us in the comments!


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10 Comments

  1. idoubtit

    11/21/2012 at 11:34 AM

    This is a must read analysis of the study by a neurologist.
    http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/11/19/studying-the-brains-of-mediums/

    Quote:
    “It is possible that some or all of the experienced psychographers have insight into what they are doing (they know they are faking) but still have developed their technique to the point that they are largely performing subconsciously. It is also possible that they are interpreting their own dissociative states as spiritual. This study provides no evidence, in my opinion, to separate these two possibilities.

    There is a purely neurological interpretation of the results that are consistent with prior studies (and again, I don’t think the authors are trying to dispute this). Expertise in certain tasks has been shown to be associated with lower levels of activation in the correlating brain areas. The standard interpretation of this is that, with training and practice, the brain becomes more efficient at performing tasks. Some of the components of the task become ingrained in subconscious parts of the brain so that less conscious effort is required to perform them.”

    It was a small, exploratory study. When I read it, it didn’t wow me. “Spirit writing” (WHATEVER IT IS), is a skill just like lots of other skills. As the researchers note, it doesn’t tell us anything about the reality of their claims to talk to the dead.

  2. mxyzptlk

    11/21/2012 at 3:05 PM

    Pretty sure experience renders something deep enough in your subconscious that you don’t really need your frontal lobes engaged in order to make it happen at a highly functional level.

    Example: Athletes who train at a high level will, when they’re really on their game, get into a “flow” where time seems to slow and a different part of their brain takes over. Athletes who’ve experienced this report what almost sounds like bullet-time, as they anticipate their opposition’s moves well ahead of time and effortlessly dominate the event.

    Example: I studied Anglo-Saxon for a few years in grad school, and even though I’m not fluent in it, I sometimes dream in Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse. The first time that happened, I wrote down what I dreamt as soon as I woke up because it seemed so strange, and there it was, complete with the alliteration and caesura. And that wasn’t conscious — I’d never seen the lines before (my unconscious apparently made them up. They’re not great.)

  3. Ann

    02/02/2013 at 1:29 PM

    Spirit writing as any researching skeptic ought to know is also “automatic writing” which occurs when presumably a “spirit” somehow controls the writer or, as is more often the case, her/his writing hand and supposedly parts of his/her arm. Steven Novella response is less than desirable: Although he writes, “The standard interpretation of this is that, with training and practice, the brain becomes more efficient at performing tasks,” which seems true enough, he adds, I guess as an explanation for this: “Some of the components of the task become ingrained in subconscious parts of the brain so that less conscious effort is required to perform them.” So, should we assume then that subconscious parts of the brain are invisible to a brain scan?

  4. ThetaBrain

    03/23/2013 at 2:10 PM

    When I was practicing, my business partner and I hand an idea about what brainwaves did when we started using our minds to heal, or whatever we were setting about to do. So we started hooking ourselves up to an EEG machine to see what was going on with our brain. We learned that when we entered what this article calls the “trance state”, our brains lost most Beta Wave action (the motor skills, awake, FAST part of brain activity), Alpha Waves rose slightly (imagination, the part that is awake during dreaming or recalling events), and Theta Waves (deep dream state, deep meditative state, SLOW activity) spiked dramatically. In fact, our brains were mostly utilizing Theta Waves. Our whole brains–or at least what we could measure by electrodes across our heads in a grid. Also of note was a rise in Delta Waves (comatose). We were quite scientific in our research, and though I have always had “awareness” and have long studied the metaphysical world, I’m a skeptic, so I took things at face value. But when using mostly Theta Waves, our results were outstanding. I since developed a theory about the mind/brain connection, but it’s too much to go into in a comment (I’ve gone on enough already). To sum it up, when using your mind for things other than resting in your body, your brain isn’t needed. It’s like putting your car in park, letting the engine run, and stepping out of your car to get a better look at the flowers alongside the road.

    • evilsloth4

      02/17/2015 at 9:49 PM

      Come on, add the comment on your theory.

  5. Amanda Friebis-Grimes

    08/09/2016 at 9:21 PM

    Interesting !

  6. Susan Stush

    08/09/2016 at 10:11 PM

    Jesus! I’m officially off the grid…

  7. Maisim Merry

    08/09/2016 at 11:25 PM

    Ooook

  8. Martin Kilmer-True

    08/10/2016 at 2:24 AM

    I’m spooked solid!

  9. Trina Marie Young

    08/10/2016 at 10:46 AM

    The last part – it usually goes for the women lol

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