Deliberate suggestion and how we behave

Deliberate suggestion has the capacity to affect how a person behaves, new research has suggested. Published by the Association for Psychological Science in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, the study found the impact of this power is often farther-reaching than many people think.

Maryanne Garry and Robert Michael, Psychological Scientists from the Victoria University of Wellington, teamed up with Irving King of Harvard Medical School and Plymouth University and discovered suggestion - which might relate to the effect of lucky charms on test scores or alcohol intake on social interaction - can be based on 'response expectancies'.

These relate to the ways in which people anticipate they will react in various situations, with these expectancies setting people up for automatic responses that influence how the outcome will be arrived at.

The authors gave the example of a shy individual becoming more outgoing at a party because he expects the alcohol he consumes to loosen his inhibitions.

Ms Garry noted scientific findings might therefore be driven partly by suggestion and expectancies, adding:  "A scientist who knows what the hypothesis of an experiment is might unwittingly lead subjects to produce the hypothesised effect."

Chartered Psychologist Dr Jane McCartney comments:

"There is a huge difference between asking someone if they’d like a something such as a drink, cigarette, loan or advice and telling them that they would like it.  By telling instead of asking you are deliberately suggesting that they do in fact need it.

"However people on the end of such suggestions do need to be mindful of not just what’s being suggested, but importantly why it’s being suggested, is there and element of self interest from the wise sage telling you what you need to do, because it ultimately suits them for their own benefit, or are they just trying to convince you that their way is the right way out of their own steadfast belief.

"From a psychological point of view we all need to be able to give and receive sound advice and suggestions, but taking a few moment to look at any motivations, that may not suit the recipient or not be that obvious to start with, will  give the recipient of any suggestion time to consider whether or not they need to take it."

Dr Saima Latif, Chartered Psychologist, adds:

"This study is a clear example of how deliberate suggestions can be powerful and far reaching in our lives, much more than we thought previously. this study gives us some insight into how for instance advertisers able to manipulate and exploit the general public into going for certain brands because of our need to achieve a certain response expectancy. As some people are more highly suggestible than others, it is likely that some individuals will be much more influenced by suggestion and their cognitions and behaviours will also be related."