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What is Suggestion?

Updated on August 20, 2014

A suggestion, in psychology, is the process by which one person induces another to make uncritical acceptance of an idea or intimation. The person who accepts the suggestion is influenced in thinking or conduct not by his own reflective judgment but by ready-made ideas or decisions he takes from others. Suggestion is employed in advertising, propaganda, and thought control. It is also part of the everyday exchange of thoughts and ideas.

A distinction is sometimes drawn between direct and indirect forms of suggestion. In direct suggestion the recipient is in some degree aware of the aim of the suggester and hence is deliberate in his acceptance of hints or statements made by him.

Photo by Martin Walls

An example of direct suggestion can be found in a committee meeting when one member offers opinions or assertions, which are then accepted or rejected by the other members of the group. In a case of indirect suggestion the recipient is less aware of the intent of the suggester.

For example, members of a mob may be ready to accept without deliberation a call to action that fits their mood. A hypnotized person may act out commands with no apparent awareness of what he is doing.

It has been found that individuals who are not hypnotized may respond to suggestions without being aware of them. For example, words or phrases may be flashed on a TV or movie screen for such brief intervals that the viewers are not aware of seeing them. Yet experimenters have shown that these subliminal cues do register in the audience. Such techniques could conceivably be used for advertising or propaganda.

Differences in Suggestibility

Individuals differ greatly in their openness to suggestion. Some people are usually highly resistant to suggestion, and most people are at times highly resistant. Children tend to be more open to suggestion than adults. Persons who are poorly informed about a topic are likely to be more suggestible than those who are well informed. The particular condition of a person is highly important. He is likely to be more suggestible when he is emotionally excited, fatigued, drowsy, or under hypnosis. He is likely to be more influenced if he is impressed by the number or the authoritative position of those conveying the suggestion to him. For these reasons, advertisers and political speech writers often hint that "everyone" is buying a product or supporting a candidate, or that "important people' endorse a company or a party.


Suggestions working within the individual can be of great importance. Whether physicians are aware of it or not, their prescriptions may produce beneficial effects through the patient's expectations of being helped rather than through chemical processes. History is replete with seemingly miraculous healings attributed to powers other than the usual natural causes. Autosuggestion may explain some such cases.

The suggestion or expectancy factor is a source of error in experimental work-psychological, social, or physiological. To guard against the chance that a subject will report what he thinks he is supposed to report, experimenters have to take precautions-for example, using subjects who do not know the purpose of the research.

Do you think you're open to suggestion?

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