Study looks at brain activity of mediums during spirit writing

Brazilian mediums shed light on brain activity during a trance state.

Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil analyzed the cerebral blood flow (CBF) of Brazilian mediums during the practice of psychography, described as a form of writing whereby a deceased person or spirit is believed to write through the medium’s hand. The new research revealed intriguing findings of decreased brain activity during mediumistic dissociative state which generated complex written content. Their findings will appear in the November 16th edition of the online journal PLOS ONE.

The 10 mediums—five less expert and five experienced—were injected with a radioactive tracer to capture their brain activity during normal writing and during the practice of psychography which involves the subject entering a trance-like state. The subjects were scanned using SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) to highlight the areas of the brain that are active and inactive during the practice.

Here is the paper.
Neuroimaging during Trance State: A Contribution to the Study of Dissociation

Our preliminary study investigated psychography – in which allegedly “the spirit writes through the medium’s hand” – for potential associations with specific alterations in cerebral activity. We examined ten healthy psychographers – five less expert mediums and five with substantial experience, ranging from 15 to 47 years of automatic writing and 2 to 18 psychographies per month – using single photon emission computed tomography to scan activity as subjects were writing, in both dissociative trance and non-trance states. The complexity of the original written content they produced was analyzed for each individual and for the sample as a whole.

This is an interesting part of the paper:

Subjects attributed their trance writing to “spirits”. Compared to normal writing, less expert mediums showed more activation in the same cognitive-processing areas during psychography, whereas experienced mediums showed a significantly lower level of activation. The less expert ones had to “work harder”, as shown by their relatively higher levels of activation of the cognitive processing area during psychography. Experienced mediums showed significantly reduced rCBF changes during psychography, which is consistent with the notion of automatic (non-conscious) writing and their claims that an “outer source” was planning the written content. Brain regions known to be involved in planning writing were activated less, even though the content was more elaborate than their non-trance writing. These findings are not consistent with faking or role-playing, both of which have been offered as explanations for psychography.

They conclude that relaxation is not a valid explanation, that the concept deserves further study. Indeed. This is a tiny study, only 10 people, and they admit is is exploratory. It does not say anything about the validity of their “spirit” claims but suggests what parts of the brain are active when they are engaged in this activity. (The researchers consider mind and brain as different things: ” improve our understanding of the mind and its relationship with the brain”.)

Here is a nice description from Discovery News where the researcher notes that it is just that, no more.

Dr. Steve Novella, neurologist, takes a look at this study. <— A MUST READ to understand what this study says.