What goes on in the brain of a psychic medium? According to the results of a study conducted in Brazil in 2012, the answer is ‘not much’ — although that’s a good sign in this case. The study focused on practitioners of psychography, or what is more commonly known as spirit writing as a method of communication with spirits. Interestingly, the study found a difference in brain activity between novice and experienced mediums, and also produced results during their trance state that they just could not explain.

Ten subjects were part of the study — five experienced mediums and five comparative novices to the practice — ranging between 15 to 47 years of experience. Each of the subjects conducted between 2 and 18 psychographies per month while undergoing a single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan to determine what areas of the brain were active during their trance state.

Amongst the five experienced mediums, the subjects’ trances reduced activity in the left hippocampus (the limbic system), right superior temporal gyrus, and the frontal lobe regions of the brain. The frontal lobe is associated with reasoning, planning, generating language, movement, and problem solving, meaning that the mediums would be experiencing a reduction of consciousness and focus during trance.

Interestingly, the brains of the five novices were found to exhibit the opposite behavior, with activity increasing in the frontal lobe — it’s assumed that due to their relative inexperience in the trance state, they were trying too hard to produce results.

But the real surprise came when the researchers compared the subjects’ psychographic writing to ordinary writing made when in a typical waking state: after rating the samples for complexity, the psychographies scored higher than their regular-state counterparts. With reduced activity in the frontal lobe, the resulting reduction in consciousness should have produced unfocused gobbledygook, the exact opposite of the more focused product that was actually produced. The researchers speculate on the cause of this otherwise counterintuitive outcome, but in the end, they admit that the exact reason remains elusive.