After reading about a particular tragic event in a book, seeing it in a movie or on the news, or hearing about it, you probably fear the same thing will happen to you. For example, if you think of a person whose home has been broken into, you will probably think that the chance of this happening to you is greater than you previously thought. If you watch a horror movie where the main character is chased by a red car driven by a killer, how do you think you would react if you saw a red car driving behind you on the highway? This is not imagination, pessimism or exaggeration, it is something called suggestion. We will discuss this topic further in this article.
What is suggestion?
Sticking to the dictionary definition, we can say that suggestion is a psychological process in which people are manipulated by a scene, an image, a word or a situation. Let’s dig a little deeper into this.
The first time this term was used was in the 1800s, when researchers like William James used the word suggestion in a very limited way to indicate that you can imagine something else with one idea. And many good speakers have taken advantage of this!
Several years later, thanks to hypnosis teachers such as Clark Leonard Hull, our knowledge of suggestion has expanded. The theory states that people follow patterns or instructions based on what they hear or see. So when you hear a tragic news story, you probably think about it for a while and overestimate the likelihood of it happening to you.
What power does suggestion have over us?
Not only does this technique serve to scare you or make you feel like you’re in danger, but it can also be used to make you do or say something. The mind is special, in both positive and negative ways, and in many cases it prevents us from reacting the way we want to. The power of suggestion conflicts with the idea of free will. We will explain why this is the case with the following examples:
1. It makes us think we are more intelligent than we actually are
At the University of Washington, researchers gave a pill to a group of people and told them it would improve their intelligence level. In reality, it was a placebo, and it did not affect cognitive capacity. Still, the participants’ alertness and attention skills increased, and they achieved better results on the tasks the researchers gave them.
2. It makes us ‘sick’
If you put someone in a room, let smoke come out of a smoke machine, and tell them it’s a poisonous gas, they’ll probably get choked up and think they’re going to die. Also, he can experience the symptoms of someone who is really poisoned.
To use a less extreme example, after you hear about the Zika virus on the news, you will be scared when you see a mosquito. If it stings you, you may even experience a fever and joint pain, as if the mosquito was really infected.
3. It makes us work better
The Hawthorne effect is one of the best known theories related to the power of suggestion. It is based on the idea that we behave differently when we know we are being watched. For example, employees work harder and more effectively when they think their boss is watching.
Experiments with security cameras that actually don’t work (but the people being ‘watched’ didn’t know this) concluded that if you think someone is watching you, you better try your best!
4. It changes our routine
The power of suggestion is so strong that you change your habits. For example, after watching a news story about a group of robbers attacking someone who came home after 10 p.m., you might pressure yourself to come home by 9:30 in the future.
5. It condemns innocent people
If, before looking at a line of suspects at a police station, you hear someone say, “I’m sure the thief has a beard,” you’re more likely to point to the bearded person from the line, even if you’ve never seen them before, and even if you were sure just a few minutes ago that the thief didn’t have facial hair. Suggestion alters your memory in such a way that you forget what you actually experienced.
We don’t want to claim that no one is able to make decisions, or that there is a higher power that changes our mind. But it is important to understand the role that suggestion plays in our daily lives and learn how to deal with it. Much of what you believe may simply be a product of your imagination!