Psychological scientists Maryanne Garry and Robert Michael of Victoria University of Wellington, along with Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School and Plymouth University, took a look at the phenomenon of suggestion and the relationship between suggestion, cognition and behavior.
When the researchers first began, Garry and Kirsch say they “realized that the effects of suggestion are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think.”
Deliberate suggestion can influence how people perform on learning and memory tasks, which products they prefer, and how they respond to supplements and medicines.
Think of the placebo effect.
Explaining the mechanics of it hadn’t been undertaken until now. How do you explain the effect? The answer is wrapped up in “response expectancies”. This is the way in which we anticipate our responses in various situations.
They set us up for automatic responses that actively influence how we get the outcome we expect. Once we have the expectation, our subsequent thought and behaviors will ensure that it happens.
The issue of unintentional suggestion has taken on more importance as the phenomenon is more understood. “In the scientific community, we need to be aware of – and control for – the suggestions we communicate to subjects,” said Garry. “Recent research suggests that some of psychological science’s most intriguing findings may be driven, at least in part, by suggestion and expectancies,” Garry explained. “For example, a scientist who knows what the hypothesis of an experiment is might unwittingly lead subjects to produce the hypothesized effect – for reasons that have nothing to do with the experiment itself.”
There is still much to learn about the effects – the boundaries of suggestion may be limitless. And they may be more powerful than more traditional treatments if used thoughtfully.