There is a new study being documented in the most recent edition of PLOS ONE (an open source online journal) dedicated to uncovering the brain activity in mediums that are in the process of “psychography”. Psychography is also known as the act of automatic writing and is a method used by mediums when attempting to communicate the messages sent from the deceased or spirits to loved ones or people that were important to them. They basically enter into a different state and begin to free-write the messages that they are receiving. They then show these writings to the person seeking contact so that they can see what the spirit wanted to say to them via the medium.
The study took place in Brazil, and included researchers from both the University of Sao Paulo and the Thomas Jefferson University. They engaged in this study by examining the CBF (cerebral blood flow) of Brazilian mediums during their psychography sessions. What the researchers discovered was that when the mediums entered the dissociative state necessary for psychography, their brain activity lowered significantly.
In order to collect the data from the mediums, the researchers injected a radioactive tracer into the ten selected mediums. The tracer enabled the researchers to actively see the brain activity of the mediums while they were doing normal writing and when they were doing psychographic writing. The mediums involved in the study comprised of five mediums who were highly experienced in the art of psychography and five mediums who were less experienced in it. To gather and calculate the brain activity, the researchers used “single photon emission computed tomography”, also known as SPECT. With the use of SPECT, they observed the brains of the mediums while both active and inactive during the course of the experiment.
“Spiritual experiences affect cerebral activity, this is known. But, the cerebral response to mediumship, the practice of supposedly being in communication with, or under the control of the spirit of a deceased person, has received little scientific attention, and from now on new studies should be conducted,” said the director of Research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine- Andrew Newberg, MD. Newberg is also nationally known as an expert on spirituality and the brain. He and Julio F. P. Peres, a Clinical Psychologist, PhD in Neuroscience and Behavior at the University of Sao Paulo collaborated together on this project.
Each of the mediums in the study were found to have had anywhere from 15 to 47 years’ worth of experience practicing psychography, and they had each performed it at least 18 times a month. They were all right-handed, and all were evaluated for their mental health and found to be in satisfactory condition. None of them were using any kind of psychiatric drugs. They each reported to be successful at achieving the trance-like state necessary for psychography, they also stated that they were in a regular state of consciousness while performing the normal writing control part of the study.
The outcome of the data collected from the experienced and less experienced medium groups differed greatly. It was discovered that the CBF during psychography of the more experienced group was at a lower activity level, while the CBF during psychography of the less experienced group actually showed a higher degree of activity in the same area that was being observed. The areas that SPECT zeroed in on were the left hippocampus (the limbic system), the right superior temporal gyrus, and the frontal lobe regions of the left anterior cingulated and right precentral gyrus during the mediums’ non-trance writing and their psychographic writing so that they could compare the level of activity in the two. These areas were focused on because of their known links to problem solving, movement, planning, reasoning, and generating language. What the outcome tells the researchers is this; the fact that the more experienced mediums had lower brain activity in this region during psychography means that they are less conscious, less self-aware, and are less focused during the psychography session.
The fact that the less experienced mediums had higher levels of brain activity during psychography tells the researchers that they were more focused and conscious during the act, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to “get it right” and really wanting to be good at the art of psychography.
The researchers involved stated that the fact that all of the mediums had been deemed clear of mental disorders implies that the data collected supports the evidence that dissociative experiences are actually pretty common in the general population and the fact that they are being experienced, does not mean that the person has any kind of mental disorder, more so when experienced in a spiritual or religious atmosphere. However, they do feel that more research should be conducted so that they can specifically address criteria that will distinguish between healthy and pathological dissociative expression as it applies to mediums.
Along with observing the CBT of the mediums during psychography, the researchers also closely observed the actual writing that the mediums did during the trance-like state and the controlled writing state. What they learned was that the complexity scores for the trance-induced writing was far higher than the controlled writing was. The higher complexity scores belonged to the experienced mediums, while the lower complexity scores belonged to the less experienced group. This is significant because the researchers assumed that since the more experienced group had less brain activity during the act, that would mean that their scores would be lower, and vice versa, since the less experienced group had higher brain activity, this would make their scores higher. The subject of the writings during the psychography session revolved around the importance of spirituality, ethical principles, and the bringing together of the fields of spirituality and science.
Several hypotheses have been developed by the researchers to explain the data collected. The first one being that as frontal lobe activity decreases, the areas of the brain that support mediumistic writing are further disinhibited so that the overall complexity can increase, for example, how one would act while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Newberg states, “while the exact reason is at this point elusive, our study suggests there are neurophysiological correlates of this state.”
“This first-ever neuroscientific evaluation of mediumistic trance states reveals some exciting data to improve our understanding of the mind and it’s relationship with the brain. These findings deserve further investigation both in terms of replication and explanatory hypotheses,” said Newberg.
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