- Thinking positively plants a ‘suggestion’ in the mind
- Can change behaviour to drive you towards outcome
- ‘Suggestion’ is much more powerful than thought
By Rob Waugh
PUBLISHED: 08:34 EST, 8 June 2012 | UPDATED: 08:34 EST, 8 June 2012
Thinking positively about something really might make it happen, psychologists say.
Simply anticipating something good can gear up hidden circuits in the brain to drive you towards it.
Thinking about a happy outcome plants a ‘suggestion’ in the mind, in a similar way to a hypnotist.
Two psychologists at the University of Victoria, New Zeland said: ‘Once we anticipate a specific outcome will occur, our subsequent thoughts and behaviors will actually help to bring that outcome to fruition.’
It can’t work magic, obviously, but researchers say effects of suggestion are more powerful than people think and can change behaviours and even outcomes.
If someone shy expects that a glass of wine will help him loosen up at a cocktail party, he will probably feel less inhibited, approach more people, and get involved in more conversations over the course of the evening.
And although he may give credit to the wine, his expectations of how the wine would make him feel played a major role, the researchers say.
Pyschologists Maryanne Garry and Robert Michael of Victoria University in New Zealand met with Irving Kirsch of Harvard, and the three pooled their research into the effects of suggestion.
‘Once we anticipate a specific outcome will occur, our subsequent thoughts and behaviors will actually help to bring that outcome to fruition.’
Dr Garry said: ‘We realized that the effects of suggestion are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think.’
Many studies have shown that deliberate suggestion can influence how people perform in tasks, which products they prefer and even how they respond to medicines – the placebo effect.
Dr Garry says the reason for this lies in our ‘response expectancies’, the ways in which we anticipate our responses in various situations.
The expectancies led to automatic responses which can lead to the outcome we were expecting all along.
And non-deliberate suggestions can have the same effect, said Dr Garry.
She said: ‘Simply observing people or otherwise making them feel special can be suggestive.’
But this can be worrying ‘because although we might then give credit to some new drug or treatment, we don’t realize that we are the ones who are actually wielding the influence.’
The team say that unintentional suggestions have important implications for academic research.
Dr Garry said: ‘In the scientific community, we need to be aware of – and control for – the suggestions we communicate to subjects.
‘Recent research suggests that some of psychological science’s most intriguing findings may be driven, at least in part, by suggestion and expectancies.
‘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.’
Outside the realm of the laboratory the effect can also be seen – for example in eyewitness identification, when the number of false identifications increase when the person organising the line-up knows who the suspect is.
The authors say it is still not clear where the boundary between suggestion and reality lies.
Dr Garry said: ‘And, if a ‘real’ treatment and a ‘suggestion’ lead to a similar outcome, what differentiates between the two?
‘If we can harness the power of suggestion, we can improve people’s lives.’