Thinking about a happy outcome plants a ‘suggestion’ in the mind, in a similar way to a hypnotist, psychologists say.
Simply anticipating something good can gear up hidden circuits in the brain to drive you towards it.
By thinking positively about something really might make it happen. It is for this reason why people who look on the bright side can ‘hypnotize themselves’ to overcome challenges.
Obviously, it cannot work like magic but researchers say effects of suggestion are more powerful than people think and can change behaviors and even outcomes.
Psychologists 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.’
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.
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.
According to her, by ‘simply observing people or otherwise making them feel special can be suggestive.’
But this can be worrying ‘because 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.
According to Dr. Garry, ‘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.
Dr. Garry asked, ‘what differentiates between the two if a ‘real’ treatment and a ‘suggestion’ lead to a similar outcome?
The authors say it is still not clear where the boundary between suggestion and reality lies.