Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-b2xwp Total loading time: 0.738 Render date: 2022-09-30T17:38:42.550Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Biological foundations and beneficial effects of trance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2018

Michael J. Hove
Fitchburg State University, Fitchburg, MA 01420. Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115.
Johannes Stelzer
Biomedical Magnetic Resonance, Eberhard-Karls University Tübingen, 72076 Tübingen, Germany. High-Field Magnetic Resonance Center, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, 72076 Tübngen, Germany.


Singh proposes a cultural evolutionary theory of shamanic practices, including trance. We argue that cultural factors are deeply intertwined with biological aspects in shaping shamanic practices, and the underlying biology is critical. We discuss the neural underpinnings of rhythm-induced trance, how they can facilitate insight, and how altered states can promote healing.

Open Peer Commentary
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Achterberg, J. (1985) Imagery in healing: Shamanism and modern medicine. Shambhala.Google Scholar
Altenmüller, E. & Schlaug, G. (2012) Music, brain, and health: Exploring biological foundations of music's health effects. In: Music, health and wellbeing, ed. Macdonald, R., Kreutz, G. & Mitchell, L., pp. 1124. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Carhart-Harris, R. L., Bolstridge, M., Rucker, J., Day, C. M. J., Erritzoe, D., Kaelen, M., Bloomfield, M., Rickard, J. A., Forbes, B., Feilding, A., Taylor, D., Pilling, S., Curran, V. H. & Nutt, D. J. (2016) Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: An open-label feasibility study. Lancet Psychiatry 3:619–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
de Rios, M. D. & Winkelman, M. (1989) Shamanism and altered states of consciousness: An introduction. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 21:17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Finke, R. A. (1996) Imagery, creativity, and emergent structure. Consciousness and Cognition 5(3):381–93.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gasser, P., Holstein, D., Michel, Y., Doblin, R., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Passie, T. & Brenneisen, R. (2014) Safety and efficacy of lysergic acid diethylamide-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 202:513–20.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Harner, M. (1990) The way of the shaman, third edition. Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Herbert, R. (2011) Reconsidering music and trance: Cross-cultural differences and cross-disciplinary perspectives. Ethnomusicology Forum 20(2):201–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hove, M. J., Habibi, A., Stelzer, J. & Cahn, B. R. (2017) fcMRI and EEG evidence for perceptual decoupling in rhythm induced trance. Presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Washington, DC, November 2017.Google Scholar
Hove, M. J., Stelzer, J., Nierhaus, T., Thiel, S. D., Gundlach, C., Margulies, D. S., Van Dijk, K., Turner, R., Keller, P. E. & Merker, B. (2016) Brain network reconfiguration and perceptual decoupling during an absorptive state of consciousness. Cerebral Corte 26:3116–24. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhv137.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kounios, J. & Beeman, M. (2014) The cognitive neuroscience of insight. Annual Review of Psychology 65:7193.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Labate, B. C. & Cavnar, C., eds. (2013) The therapeutic use of ayahuasca. Springer Science and Business Media.Google Scholar
Neher, A. (1962) A physiological explanation of unusual behavior in ceremonies involving drums. Human Biology 34(2):151–60.Google ScholarPubMed
Oehen, P., Traber, R., Widmer, V. & Schnyder, U. (2012) A randomized, controlled pilot study of MDMA (±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of resistant, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Journal of Psychopharmacology 27:4052.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Penman, J. & Becker, J. (2009) Religious ecstatics, “deep listeners,” and musical emotion. Empirical Musicology Review 4:4970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sidky, H. (2009) A shaman's cure: The relationship between altered states of consciousness and shamanic healing. Anthropology of Consciousness 20:171–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vaitl, D., Birbaumer, N., Gruzelier, J., Jamieson, G., Kotchoubey, B., Kübler, A., Lehmann, D., Miltner, W. H. R., Ott, U., Pütz, P., Sammer, G., Strauch, I., Strehl, U., Wackermann, J. & Weiss, T. (2005) Psychobiology of altered states of consciousness. Psychological Bulletin 131:98127. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.1.98.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Walsh, R. (2007) The world of shamanism. Llewellyn Worldwide.Google Scholar
Winkelman, M. (2010c) Shamanism: A biopsychosocial paradigm of consciousness and healing, 2nd edition. Praeger.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Biological foundations and beneficial effects of trance
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Biological foundations and beneficial effects of trance
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Biological foundations and beneficial effects of trance
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *