Self-induced cognitive trance is an expression of the brain’s natural ability to experience and self-induce a trance state.
Originating from the study of shamanic practices, this state of cognitive enhancement, devoid of any ritual or cultural expression, has been made attainable in 2 to 4 days of training, thanks to tools developed within the framework of the TranceScience Research Institute. This self-induced trance state can be interrupted at any time without any of the side effects that can result from taking psychoactive substances.
Now recognised as a potential brain function, its study and recognition are the result of a research programme initiated by Corine Sombrun in 2007. Our observations, carried out on more than 1000 volunteers, enabled us to conclude that on average 90% of them experienced a trance and were able to learn to induce it themselves.
A neuroscience study has been recently carried out at the University of Liège in collaboration with the TranceScience research institute and has demonstrated a different brain response in trance compared to an ordinary state of consciousness in an expert participant . A second protocol is currently being finalised on a study of 27 expert “trancers”.
The main effects reported by people experiencing a trance are:
The study also permitted us to observe that most subjects developed different ways of accessing many forms of altered states of consciousness, including:
There are still only a few studies that have looked at the effect of trance on the brain.
It appears from the initial studies that the areas of the brain involved in the management of information from the external environment (e.g. dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, insula), as well as in the management of information related to self-awareness (posterior cingulate cortex – default mode network), function differently when the subject is in a trance state (results obtained from 15 subjects ). In addition, the areas of the brain involved in sensory perception (auditory and visual cortex, in particular) show a different activation when the person is in a trance state, compared to an ordinary state of consciousness (results obtained from 8 subjects, compared to 8 control subjects ).
The electrical activity of the brain appears to be characterised by a modification of beta rhythms particularly in frontal, parietal and occipital regions (regions particularly well-known for their involvement in self-perception) (results obtained from one expert subject ). There is also a shift from left hemisphere and anterior prefrontal lobe predominance to right hemisphere predominance with a specific shift from an anterior prefrontal to a posterior somatosensory mode of consciousness .
On the other hand, brain activity in response to magnetic stimulation appears to increase when applied to the frontal area, whereas this response decreases when the stimulation is applied to the parietal lobes (1 subject ). The observations related to frontal stimulation could reflect the particular attention focused on inner experience, sensory acuity and mental imagery characteristic of trance; whereas the decrease observed during parietal stimulation could reflect the decrease in awareness of the environment.
All these preliminary observations reflect the subjective sensations reported by people when they are in a trance, namely a particular state of absorption characterised by a different perception of themselves and their environment.
Finally, it is our assumption that the conscious intention prior to the onset of the cognitive trance is at the origin of a resonant amplification between subconscious and conscious activities. This resonant amplification appears as a phase transition, a discontinuous state change from ordinary consciousness to simultaneous activity of ordinary consciousness and subconscious circuits, leading to a state of weak, non-pathological dissociation.
New research on self-induced cognitive trance by EEG and fMRI has been ongoing since June 2018 under the direction of Prof. Laureys and Drs. Gosseries and Vanhaudenhuyse, in collaboration with the University of Liège, Giga Consciousness and the TranceScience Institute, and includes a study (27 subjects) to measure the similarities and differences of the Cognitive Trance state with hypnosis, meditation and near-death experiences (NDEs), a study (25 subjects) on the measurement of changes in the strength and perception of pain in the trance state and a study in oncology (123 subjects) to evaluate the clinical benefits of cognitive trance versus hypnosis on a group of symptoms (pain, fatigue, sleep, emotional distress) over a period of one year.
An EEG research project on the study of the effects of trance in zero gravity (on board the Airbus Zero-G) is also in progress, led by Dr Vanhaudenhuyse and in collaboration with the University of Liège, Giga Conscioussness, the TranceScience Institute and the CNES/Observatoire de l’Espace, Antoine Bioy from the University of Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, Olivia Gosseries from the University and University Hospital of Liège, Alexandre Coutte from the University of Paris Nanterre, Joanic Masson from the University of Picardie Jules Verne, Baptiste Lignier and Pierre de Oliveira from the University of Burgundy and Renaud Evrard from the University of Lorraine.
The TranceScience Research Institute, created in 2019 under the guidance of Prof. Francis Taulelle and Corine Sombrun, aims to study trance states and to collaborate with research organisations, hospitals and universities.
In parallel with these collaborations, The Institute offers researchers and health professionals an opportunity to contribute to research activities on self-induced cognitive trance and/or to follow a four-year course, including two years of Academic Qualification (DU) and Post-master Qualification (DESU) at the University of Paris 8 (opened for the academic year beginning in October 2021 by Profs. Antoine Bioy and Marie-Carmen Castillo), which will enable them to make use of the results acquired in the study and practice of self-induced cognitive trance to provide support for patients in a therapeutic setting.
Pilot tests have shown the value of using self-induced trance in addictive behaviours, appetite regulation, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress syndromes, dissociative disorders and in the fields of motor and functional rehabilitation. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of this approach still need to be investigated through clinical studies.
Pilot tests have shown the interest of the use of self-induced trance in addictive behaviors, appetite regulation, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress syndromes, dissociative disorders and areas of motor and functional rehabilitation. However, its foundations remain to be investigated through clinical studies.
Flor-Henry, P. et al. (2017) Brain changes during a shamanic trance: Altered modes of consciousness, hemispheric laterality, and systemic psychobiology. Cogent Psychology 4, 1313522
Gosseries, O. et al. (2020) Behavioural and brain responses in cognitive trance: A TMS-EEG case study. Clin Neurophysiol 131, 586–588
Hove, M.J. et al. (2016) Brain Network Reconfiguration and Perceptual Decoupling During an Absorptive State of Consciousness. Cereb. Cortex 26, 3116–3124
Mainieri, A.G. et al. (2017) Neural correlates of psychotic-like experiences during spiritual-trance state. Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging 266, 101–107