The Power of Suggestion

The Power of Suggestion

Last update: 16 January, 2017

After reading a book, watching a movie, listening to the news, or talking about a tragic event, you’re more likely to be afraid that it will happen to you. For example, if you think about a person whose house was broken into and robbed, you’ll probably think that the likelihood of this happening to you is higher than you thought previously. If you watch a horror movie where the protagonist is followed by a red car driven by a murderer, how do you think you’ll react when you see a red car behind you on the highway? This isn’t imagination, pessimism, or exaggeration, it’s something called suggestionWe’ll discuss this topic further in this article.

What is suggestion?

Sticking to the dictionary definition, we’ll say that suggestion is a psychological process in which people are manipulated by a scene, an image, a word, or a situation. Let’s look into this a little more deeply.


The first time the term was used was in the 19th century, when researchers like William James used the word suggestion in a very restricted sense to refer to saying one idea to suggest another. And many great speakers took advantage of this!

A few years later, thanks to teachers of hypnosis like Clark Leonard Hull, knowledge of suggestion broadened. The theory states that people follow patterns or instructions according to what they hear or see. So when you hear a tragic news story, you’ll probably think about it for a while and overestimate the likelihood of it happening to you.

What power does suggestion have over us?

This technique not only serves to make you afraid or feel like you’re in danger, but it can also be used to make you do or say something in particular. The mind is extraordinary, in a positive and negative way, and in many cases, it prevents us from acting the way we want. The power of suggestion contradicts the idea of free will. We’ll explain why in the following examples:

1. It makes us think we’re more intelligent than we actually are

At the University of Washington, researchers gave a pill to a group of people and told them that it would improve their level of intelligenceIn reality, it was a placebo, and it didn’t increase any cognitive ability whatsoever. Nevertheless, the participants’ state of alertness and attention increased, and they achieved better results on the tasks that the researchers gave them.

child graduate

2. It makes us “sick”

If you put someone in a room, release smoke from a novelty fog machine, and tell them that it’s a toxic gas, they’ll probably gasp for air, think they’re going to die, and experience the symptoms of someone who’s been poisoned.

To use a less extreme example, after hearing about the Zika virus on the news, you’ll feel frightened when you see a mosquito, and if it bites you, you might even develop a fever and joint pain as though the mosquito really were infected.

3. It makes us work better

The Hawthorne effect is one of the most well-known effects related to the power of suggestion. It’s based on the idea that when we’re being observed, we act differently. As such, employees work harder and more effectively when they think their boss is watching.

people working

Experiments with security cameras that weren’t actually functioning (but the people being “watched” didn’t know this) concluded that if you think someone is watching, you’ll do everything better!

4. It changes our routine

The power of suggestion is so strong that it makes you change your habits. For example, after watching a news story about a group of robbers assaulting someone who arrived home after 10 at night, you might pressure yourself to get home at 9:30.

5. It condemns innocent people

If, before viewing a police lineup, you hear someone say “I’m sure that the robber had a beard,” you’re more likely to point out a person with a beard, even if you’ve never seen them before, or even if you were sure that the robber was beardless just a few minutes ago. Suggestion alters your memory in such a way that you forget what you actually experienced.

We don’t mean that we’re all strangers to making decisions, or that there’s a higher force that changes our opinions. But it’s important to understand the role that suggestion plays in our daily lives and how we can deal with it. Much of what you believe might just be a product of your imagination!


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.