Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 11: Suggestion

Emory S. Bogardus

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

SUGGESTION is the process of sending out stimuli, consciously or unconsciously, planned or not. Imitation is the resultant phase of the same social process, and refers to reacting favorably or unfavorably, consciously or unconsciously, to the given stimulus. If there is no stimulus, suggestion does not exist; and if there is no reaction then imitation has not occurred. Suggestion cannot be separated from imitation, for without imitation, either favorable or contrary, it can not be said to have taken place. When suggestion occurs, imitation is a counterpart ; and vice versa. In other words a suggestion-imitation phenomenon is a unit of conduct. Moreover it cannot take place outside of social situations.

The basis of suggestion-imitation is found in a stimulus-response condition. In fact suggestion resolves itself into such a condition with all that is thereby implied. The implications, however, may become very complex, reaching out into various types of suggestion and many forms of imitation, producing a large number of combinations of conduct activities. Suggestion-imitation may stop with the simplest form of cry and the appropriate response, or it may extend to a harangue on a street corner, a series of campaign speeches, or a world movement. Suggestion-imitation is a phase of communication; it ranges from the simplest to the most complicated forms of communication ; the discussion of it is in effect a specialized method of analyzing communicative phenomena. The suggestion phase of the process will be discussed here, and imitation in the succeeding chapter.


Suggestion depends for its success on the nature of the habitual responses of the possible imitators. If the imitator is accustomed to acting in a certain way then a related suggestion will bring out the logical responses. If I am fond of eating apple pie and someone between meals simply mentions apple pie, I am quite certain to feel hungry for apple pie. If I enjoy baseball games and some one casually refers to a baseball game that is in progress near at hand while I am writing these lines, I shall find myself unconsciously laying aside the pen and looking for my cap.

( 125) Furthermore, I will go to the game if there are no serious inhibiting impulses, either instinctive, habitual, or conscious.

On the other hand, if I am one who has never heard of apple pie, the mention of it will produce no response except perhaps that of wonder, inquiry, or fear. If I have no habitual tendencies to attend baseball games, then the announcement that one is in progress will scarcely attract my attention. It thus is evident that a suggestion normally functions within the field of habit. What I am in the habit of doing, I am suggestible to ; and what I have no habitual response for, I will not respond to. Suggestion-imitation is an habituation product, as well as a phase of communication.

The contention of Dr. Boris Sidis that a suggested idea meets at once with more or less opposition is too sweeping a statement, and does not distinguish between situations.[1] It is only when the suggested idea calls for a response somewhat outside the field of habituation that it meets with possible opposition. If it is within that field, other things being equal, that the opposition may be violent, or passive.


Suggestion is direct or indirect. If direct, it usually comes in the form of a command, and with prestige or authority. It is illustrated by the parental command to the child who promptly obeys, by the priestly injunction to the worshiper, by the officer's orders to the private, by the hypnotist's instructions to his subject. In all these cases the rôle played by habit is fundamental.

Hypnotism affords a productive field for the study of direct suggestion. As a social phenomenon it is as yet not sufficiently understood to be commended as useful. Under present conditions, the specially trained psychologist is the only person who is entitled to use hypnotism. Hypnotic suggestion finds success in arousing established habits of the subject, who may be made to climb, act as if stung by bees, or swim, but who cannot be stimulated into activity contrary to organized habits. The application of hypnotic suggestion in medical and psychical therapy is still in an experimental stage. The procedure is usually that of trying to help the patient to originate new activity paths so that the physical or mental disturbance may be broken and destroyed. In the field of testimony it is argued that an alleged offender may be hypnotized and his possible guilt discovered. The theory is that a hypnotized person being no longer protected by his

(126) astute conscious nature will disclose facts that will prove or disclose his guilt. The theory has merit if the offense lies in the field of established habit; otherwise its unreliability is almost certain.


Indirect suggestion operates unrecognized by the subject, because its appeal is made within the subject's field of habitual reactions. It has been aptly described as slantwise suggestion, and as representing a flank movement, rather than a frontal attack as in the case of direct suggestion.[2] The adult mind is frequently more likely to be influenced by this method than by any other, for the adult has a large number of well-organized habits, which afford the basic conditions for unconscious response. Direct suggestion on the other hand arouses attention and stimulates the adult to bring his store of experience to bear upon it in criticism.

The typical child responds almost as readily to direct as to indirect suggestion, because he has a meager amount of organized experience by which to judge new stimuli. Not having much of his mental life organized into habit, he is more or less free to respond in any direction and to any stimuli that his native tendencies and the impulses of the moment dictate. This is why children are known for their suggestibility.

The distinction between direct and indirect suggestion is found first in the way in which the suggested idea secures entrance to the mind of the subject, whether it arouses the attention or not. This latter point is determined by a basic fact, namely, the appeal made within or without the field of one's habits. If within, it may properly be called indirect; if without, direct. The response to direct suggestion usually requires at least a modicum of reasoned affirmation, and thus may cause a slight delay.

The constructive uses of indirect suggestion are manifold. Indirect suggestion may be made to draw upon the developing reservoirs of habit in ways not yet suspected by most people. A few illustrations will be given and discussed here.

"When I wish my young brother on the opposite side of the dining-room table to sit up straight," says a young lady, "I straighten up suddenly myself, without comment, without interrupting the conversation, and without even glancing at my brother, and he responds." This case illustrates a far-reaching application of the principle of indirect suggestion in exerting a socially wholesome influence upon others. By setting examples it is pos-

(127) -sible to secure responses from individuals which will serve as the first phases of new constructive habits, or developmental phases of habits already partly formed.

Many teachers and parents nag, scold, and order, "Don't do this," and "Don't do that," and are chagrined and even aggrieved because the child reacts contrarily. They forget that they have made no appeal to the child's organized habits, and moreover, no appeal to the child to begin the process of constructive habit-formation. Their demand requires that the child's natural and habitual activities be repressed, thus leaving him with energy dammed up, without outlet. He is in an agitated mental state, and is likely to assume a belligerent attitude.[3]

Other teachers and parents put the emphasis on setting one constructive example after another, or suggesting activities of a constructive nature that would be performed by the child in company with another child or other children—thus utilizing the child's group-made nature. Straight-forward examples of conduct and attitude are attractive to children and they commonly try to follow. Mere precept is often ineffective because it either centers attention in a negative way upon forbidden activities or else it unduly urges a line of behavior for which the individual has no habitual responses.

Another example of indirect suggestion that relates to the problems of teaching may be analyzed :

A rather large boy, John, was transferred from the seventh grade to the ungraded room, of which I had charge, because in the seventh grade "he would do absolutely nothing but arithmetic and drawing," reported the regular teacher. In the ungraded room I allowed John to follow his own inclinations to a large extent; as a result, he did well in his two favorite subjects of arithmetic and drawing, but in no other work. Knowing from the unpleasant experiences of his former teachers that it would be useless to insist on his studying the despised geography or history lesson, I said nothing about these subjects, but mentioned only the two subjects which he enjoyed. One day, however, while discussing a geography lesson with a group of pupils, I asked John if he would draw on the blackboard a certain map for the use of the geography class that day, complimenting him in the presence of the class upon his ability to draw. Each day thereafter, I asked him to draw some assignment in the geography lesson, taking care that the assignments would require more and more reading in geography on his part. A similar method was pursued in history, with the result that at the close of the year John was doing creditable work in both geography and history—the subjects in which he had failed in the regular grade work.[4]

( 128)

In this illustration, the teacher succeeded by making his appeal to the pupil's habitual reactions. In utilizing the boy's mirrored self, the teacher also followed a scientific procedure, and received effective assistance in solving the situation. Of course, the problem of teaching cannot always be handled in this way, for there may be no related ground of habit. Furthermore, teaching requires the establishment of new habits as well as the extension of old ones.

The press despatches stated that Princess Mary of England upon the announcement of her wedding in 1922 received 600 presents before the wedding from persons who had not been invited, but many of whom, it was indicated, hoped thereby to receive an invitation. It is reported that this use of indirect suggestion failed, as it deserved to fail, for it could hardly be considered socially legitimate. The main psychological reason for the failure undoubtedly lay in the fact that the receipt of pre-wedding gifts from strangers appealed to no background of habitual responses, and hence the procedure brought a response of wonderment, mere appreciation, or possibly of resentment, but not of sending out wedding invitations. Socially of course the force of conventional standards operated to defeat the aim of the social climbers.

A librarian noticing that the young people were reading low grade novels, posted on the inside of the front and back covers of these books a statement to this effect : "Other books of this type are ." Here she gave the names of three or four works of fiction, being careful to mention books of a little higher grade than the one in which the notice appeared. In a short time it was found that the youthful patrons of the public library were reading a better grade of books. The librarian repeated the process, with the result that in a year's time, the type of fiction-reading had markedly changed for the better. This case of indirect suggestion, as is common, resolves itself into a matter of stimulating habitual responses, and securing in this way by a little forethought, a constructive modification of habitual nature.

A merchant, having too many slow-pay customers, offered prizes for the best essays on the subject: How to collect accounts. Considerable discussion developed on the subject of long-term credit. Since the merchant lived in a neighborhood of ordinarily honest and well-to-do people who had grown simply careless in their treatment of the neighborhood grocer, the grocer's appeal was effective, and he saved himself from bankruptcy. He had pricked into action the somewhat lax habits of paying one's obligations. Had he lived where many of his customers possessed no habits of ordinary honesty his method would have produced no results ; and had he been

( 129) located in a district of the chronically delinquent-wealthy, there would have been little result except that of creating animosity on the part of some families who had become habitually resentful of any implied criticism.

In a given California school, prejudice had developed against a few Japanese and Chinese children who were in attendance. The teacher arranged a debate on the subject: Resolved that China has advanced further democratically in the last ten years than Japan has done. She appointed three pupils on each side of the question, and one-half of the remaining pupils to gather information for the affirmative debaters, and the other half to work for the negative debaters. All the pupils fell to studying about the peoples of China and Japan and the struggle in each of these countries to secure democracy. By the day of the debate, marked interest in and sympathy for both the Chinese and the Japanese had developed. As a result of this use of indirect suggestion, the teacher experienced no further trouble because of race prejudice. Her procedure had expanded the pupils' sympathetic and habitually favorable responses to include the social situations of the Chinese and Japanese children, and illustrates one of the fundamental laws of both personal and group advance.

A farmer persuaded all his neighbors to paint their barns during the same season, with the result that land values rose ten dollars an acre for all. Buyers unconsciously felt that the land in that district must be of superior grade or the farmers would not be so prosperous.

A member of a Board of State Charities appealed to the superintendents of state institutions through indirect suggestion as follows :

Often there would be something to correct and I would tell the superintendent not what he ought to do, but what some other man had done under similar circumstances. . . . Then on my next visit, the superintendent would say, "You know what you told me about so and so. Well, I tried it and it worked first rate."[5]

The superintendent came to believe that the plan was his own, and thus he supported it heartily.

In a personal discussion one skilled in argumentation often begins by agreeing with his opponent. By so stimulating the opponent's habitual

responses, he secures a more or less expansive, unguarded mental activity on the part of the opponent and may be able to lead him step by step to endorse a new position. To arouse the spontaneity that springs from habitual reactions is far more effective than bluntly to challenge habit or

( 130) unorganized mental activity, thus putting the individual in a defensive attitude.

Another phase of indirect suggestion is illustrated by the soldiers who were to test their gas masks, and thought they smelled gas when there had been none. The explanation is found in the fact that the concentration upon smelling for gas, and the high degree of expectation automatically released the habit mechanisms for smelling gas. This expectation-releasing process operates daily. At times it is beyond the limits of conscious control. It produces many of the fears which harass temperamental persons.

The ignorant are especially subject to indirect suggestion. The immigrant or stranger is in this class. An immigrant of several years standing opened a banking business in a Pennsylvania town, but for a time he had little patronage from the incoming aliens of his race. He hit upon the plan of purchasing a large safe and putting it in the large front window of his store, and at once the money on deposit increased rapidly—not because he had proved himself an honest banker but for the reason that he had a reliable-appearing safe. He had released the habitual judgments of the people in his neighborhood that a safe meant safety for their earnings.

Adolescents are continually resorting to indirect suggestion as a means of controlling their younger comrades. They use fear as well as many hollow rewards in order to get unpleasant tasks done. The "everlasting fielder" plan, is successful in getting balls "shagged" without loss of "turn at the bat" on the part of the regular players. Mark Twain revealed countless uses of indirect suggestion on the part of leaders among boys. For example, Tom Sawyer has the unpleasant, irksome work of whitewashing a fence. When a boy friend passes, Tom boasts of his ability to white-wash, but deliberately daubs the fence. The sight causes the newcomer to challenge Tom, seize the brush and exhibit his own skill. By this process the fence is whitewashed—with Tom looking on all the while. Tom had "elevated fence painting to the rank of the most popular sport in the home town," and on a day when fishing and swimming had been scheduled. Tom had aroused the first onlooker's habitual reactions to paint, and the onlooker having turned painter was kept at the work after it became onerous because the presence and remarks of new onlookers stimulated his established estimate of himself.

Children sometimes resort to indirect suggestion as a means of influencing their elders. While this conduct is usually not commendable, it in an

( 131) unpremeditated form amounts to harmless cleverness. When "George" was visiting at his aunt's the latter removed a pan of hot cookies from the oven. George looked wistfully at the cookies and said: "My mother told me not to ask for anything." The look and remark, both perhaps innocent in character, stimulated the habit of giving, and before she realized what she was doing, the aunt held out the baking pan and was urging the boy to help himself.

Indirect suggestion may be used in bad as well as good ways. In public life the application of indirect suggestion is especially important, for it affects multitudes. Politicians usually succumb to the temptation to use indirect suggestion, because it can be called into operation for illegitimate purposes without arousing serious unfavorable reactions against its manipulators. The public is always subject to questionable indirect suggestions that are resorted to by demagogues. In a certain city the people were asked to vote bonds in order to construct an aqueduct. For some time before the election day there was much said in the newspapers about the shortage of water supply for the city and rigid restrictions concerning the use of the water were put into force. The bonds were voted, but after the election the rigid water regulations were rescinded, even though the additional water supply would not be available for years. This method of indirect suggestion had aroused the famine-fear reactions (largely habitual) of the people, and in supposed self-defense they voted the additional water supply.

Indirect suggestion may be employed for a variety of worthy public aims. When Roosevelt was police commissioner in New York City, he received an application for police protection from a rabid anti-Jewish speaker who was invading the Jewish section of the city. The request was granted, but it did not take the anti-Jewish demagogue long to appreciate the indirect suggestion when he found that he was protected by a detail of twenty-five Jewish policemen. To denounce Jews who had been assembled to protect him and who were the official representatives of the government outraged his fair-play habits, and respect-for-government habits ; and his primary purpose in speaking was defeated.

Additional light is thrown on the nature of indirect suggestion by the instance of the Armenian immigrant from Turkey whose experiences of being persecuted had developed fear reactions, and in addition a habit of giving policemen "graft" money for protection. When the immigrant reached the United States and started down a city street, he met a police-man and was at once completely terrified, offering him a dollar, saying :

( 132)

"Sir, one dollar, that is all," and meaning that he had but one dollar to give as a bribe if not taken to jail. Both fear and the bribery habits had been stimulated into action.

Indirect suggestion may function by stimulating imaginative activity. Thus office may clothe the office-holder with a worth he does not possess. In this way too, indirect suggestion may carry the poisoned darts of insinuation. If in recommending an acquaintance for a position, I conservatively and innocently state that the young man will do fairly well, the imagination of the employer immediately pictures several possible weaknesses of the candidate rather than the one which I had in mind. By the use of the word "fairly," I have started up the employer's imagination and he forms a picture of the candidate which does him gross injustice. Consequently, if I use any qualifying term I had better explain or the candidate's chances will be wrecked.

Flattery is a shrewd form of indirect suggestion. It operates to inflate the subject's estimate of himself, but more fundamentally it is an over-powering stimulus to all the mechanisms that have been organized in a person's life around his concept of self. All the energies are released along habit lines and the person is less critical than usual.

Slogans, campaign shibboleths, newspapers and billboard advertisements are replete with indirect suggestion. The advertisements of the appealing youth with rosy cheeks, holding a cigarette implies that the cigarette has given the youth his attractiveness. The onlooker's responsiveness to the youth includes a favorable reaction to the cigarette and the particular brand that is advertised, unless the onlooker has strong convictions to the contrary. The full dinner pail slogan carries an appeal regarding the immediate future, and promptly stimulates pleasurable responses when this immediate future is pictured. It makes no suggestion regarding higher costs of living that may cut down the buying power of the dollar. It suggests that the party which advertises the full dinner pail has a monopoly on the methods of providing it. The full dinner pail and the name of the party are shown together, and the agreeable responses produced by the former are thereby associated with the latter, and after repetition the name of the political party alone produces agreeable responses and secures votes. The advertisement of the luscious strawberry cake and the name of a baking powder likewise sets up pleasurable responses which later are aroused by the name of the baking powder alone. The implications of "Ivory Soap" and of "Hotpoint" electrical appliances are self-evident, illustrating the rôle that the conditioned response plays in indirect suggestion.

( 133)


There are other forms of suggestion known as immediate, mediate, and counter suggestion (the names given them by Boris Sidis) but the first two are forms of imitation rather than of suggestion.[6] They explain how persons respond to stimuli or suggestion. In all three cases the suggestion may be given in exactly the same way ; the differences are not in the suggestions but rather in the responses. In the first two the responses are imitative and will be considered in the next chapter under the titles of immediate and mediate imitation.

Some persons and many children respond in an opposite way to that which is suggested. In these cases the person's impulses and habits have become more or less closely organized in the form of an ego, and the first reaction is one of defense against change and hence against any form of an impinging environment. Moreover, the habit has been formed of reacting against any direct suggestion. The persons representing chronic counter suggestion either have inherited well organized (relatively) sets of impulses, or have had to shift for themselves. As children they may have had no brothers or sisters, or no brothers or sisters somewhat near them in age; or they have played with children much younger than themselves whom they learned to dominate. At any rate they probably did not play regularly where the rule of give-and-take was enforced by superiors or equals.[7]


Auto-suggestion is indirectly a phase of interstimulation. Fear may be suggested by a friend, and later be imagined as real. Sickness is sometimes to be explained by imagined ills that have been suggested to one from the passing comments of others. Patent medicine advertisements usually ask if the reader does not have a headache or a backache and then pronounce these aches symptoms of this or that dread disease. Many persons read these advertisements and auto-suggestion does the rest. Many worries originate in environmental factors which are magnified by auto-suggestion. Pessimism and optimism also are often partially due to auto-suggestion.

In a sense all auto-suggestion originates in the stimuli from the social

( 134) environment. These are thought about or absorbed unconsciously until they become a part of a person's nature. What a person "suggests to himself" frequently has had its origin in social stimuli. In this way all auto-suggestion is a transformed type of indirect suggestion. Couéism involves the use of suggestions which the subject allows his organism unattentively to put into operation as far as it will. In most cases it does not get at and remove causes.


Social suggestion is that coming not from an individual but from the group. Its origin frequently is in "crowd emotion," "mob excitement," and "war spirit." At a football game, persons of dignity fall under the influence of an excited crowd and yell wildly. In a heated political debate otherwise cool individuals give way to the crowd spirit and "lose their heads."


The degree to which an individual responds to suggestion is called his suggestibility. His likelihood of response varies. This suggestibility differs among social groups of individuals. Some of the more important laws of suggestibility explain in new ways the nature of suggestion. Stimulating discussions of suggestibility have been given by E. A. Ross [8] from the sociological viewpoint, and by William McDougall [9] from a psychological approach, without either being complete in itself. Suggestibility, according to R. H. Gault,[10] is "that condition of the organism in which one or another determining tendency or disposition may express itself with relative freedom." This definition makes suggestibility a strong inherited quality; it is excellent as far as it goes, but overlooks the rôle of important factors such as knowledge, fatigue conditions, prestige of the source of suggestions, crowd conditions. In view of the pioneering work of Ross, McDougall, Sidis and of current contributions the laws of suggestibility may be stated as follows :

I. The more social the members of a species, the greater the suggestibility. Animals which live in flocks or herds are more suggestible than those which forage alone—compare the suggestibility of sheep with that of the tiger. Since man has developed highly gregarious habits, his sug-

(135) -gestibility is relatively very pronounced. Individuals which live in the presence of others almost all the time, habitually respond to a great variety of stimuli from their associates and are thus very suggestible.

2. People who live in warm climates find life more easy than those in frigid regions. Their activities are less organized about the ego; they are more responsive, and their suggestibility is greater. They possess more response habits than Arctic people. Because life conditions are easier the birthrate is higher, and as population increases, the possibilities of forming associative habits are greater. Thus, suggestibility is apt to be high. Moreover, a colder habitat favors the formation of thought habits as distinguished from the tendency to form impulse habits among subtropical peoples.

3. Isolated rural people are less suggestible than crowded urbanites. They develop few habits of association and are thus less responsive. They must solve problems with less aid, and develop a proverbial individualism or sets of habits for doing things in established ways. They have fewer stimuli to change their habits than do city people.

4. The more impulsive are the more suggestible. They act more quickly and deliberate less. He who bides his time is commonly more calculating than suggestible. Some individuals are born with neuro-muscular mechanisms that operate faster than those of other persons. Impulses, as such, seem to travel from sense organ to terminal muscle or gland faster; and hence impulses when organized into habits continue to act quicker in the case of some persons than of others. A quicker suggestibility thereby occurs.

Again, some impulsive persons have great difficulty in developing habits. They are impulse slaves as compared with others who easily become habit frozen. The native activities of some persons become organized in established ways with great difficulty; such individuals remain highly suggestible.

The emotional and sentimental are more suggestible than the rational. They respond with less thought. Because of their quicker reaction time they are not able to profit by the time element which may check suggestibility by giving a chance for reflection.

5. The nervous person is more suggestible than the normal. Nervousness is due to an abnormally low degree of neurological control; under such conditions the mind functions fitfully. Deliberation is handicapped and habitual reactions are subject to disintegration. Suggestibility is high and capricious. Even habits are not coördinated and under control, and hence suggestibility manifests itself chiefly in impulsive reactions.

( 136)

6. Suggestibility varies with sex. The authorities are generally agreed that men are less suggestible than women, but the authorities on the subject are men and may be biased. According to the available data, women as a class have not had as wide a range of experiences as men, and hence have not developed as many sets of habit mechanisms. A large percentage of their native impulses are unorganized but responsive to a range of suggestions. Their experiences being more limited, women are not able to bring as many controls to oppose suggestions as are men. On the other hand, in times of financial craze men go wild in investing even the hard-earned savings of themselves and their wives. Who is more suggestible than men in the minutes when millions are being made or lost in the stock market? In such cases the wife is often the cooler-headed. Men succumb to the appeal of the gaming-table, to the hunting impulses, but how many wage-earning women gamble their money away on pay-night ?

7. Suggestibility varies with age—the young as a rule being the more suggestible. The child and adolescent lack organized habits and knowledge with which to face suggestions. They are softer wax than persons of experience, travel, and organized information upon many subjects. Being more impulsive they respond to a greater range of suggestions.

8. Suggestibility depends on degree of fatigue. The fatigue toxins which circulate through the system dull the brain centers and lessen the ability to make rational judgments. The habit mechanisms also function less accurately. In consequence suggestibility increases.

9. Suggestibility varies with the degree and organization of knowledge. He who has a large fund of organized experiences and facts drawn from all phases of a given field, will not be irrationally suggestible in that matter, although he may be very suggestible in other matters upon which he is not thoroughly informed. In the field of organized experience, his reactions to suggestions will be in the direction of his habitual estimates, although these may carry him astray.

10. Suggestibility varies with the prestige of the sources of suggestion. The average person is very suggestible in the presence of a leading authority or a heroic leader. Unfortunately, by many, a person with prestige is accepted as an authority on a large number of subjects outside his field of deserved prestige. What the "mayor" or the "bishop" says on subjects far removed from the field of politics and religion is accepted without question by victims of prestige suggestion.

11. Suggestibility varies with the degree of crowd or group excitement and emotion. In a large crowd it is natural for an average individual to feel insignificant and to act with the mass rather than throw himself

( 137) against it. In fact, reflective activity may be reduced to a minimum, be-cause all of a person's energies are being drained off along impulsive and habitual lines. The crowd, as we shall see later, is primitive and impulsive in its actions and stimulates the individual's impulsive activities. Group excitement and emotion may thus sway all but the most habitually critical observers.

12. Suggestibility varies with reflectiveness. If a person has developed the habit of reflective criticism, and habitually subjects every proposal to a scrutiny of all its phases together with their probable outcomes and attendant obstacles, his degree of suggestibility will test low.

13. If to habitual criticism and organized experience and knowledge along many lines a person adds strong activity habits and coördinates these three traits, he is trebly guarded against irrational suggestibility. Organized knowledge plus habits of criticism may result in a wishy-washy attitude unless supported by habits of decisive action. Coöperation of these three factors raises one's threshold high enough to shut out effectively irrational suggestions.

All progressives are suggestible. The non-suggestible person is usually habit-bound, static, and stubborn. If all suggestions are given a fair hearing, examined coolly and thoroughly, and rejected if found of dubious character, or accepted and spread if meritorious, the most rational attitude possible will have been taken toward them.

In conclusion it may be said that suggestion is a powerful agent of social construction or demolition. A nation can use it to build itself into an aristocratic or a democratic society. Through its educational system a group can use suggestion to indoctrinate little children with almost any set of beliefs that is desired. The power of advertisers or demagogues is puny in comparison with that of the educators because in children suggestibility is at flood tide.


1. Suggestion is (a) the process of giving out personal stimuli ; (b) it is the first part of the process of which imitation is the second and last; and (c) it is an initial phase of communication.

2. Suggestion is possible because of the existence of stimulus-response mechanisms.

3. The results of suggestion are conditioned by habit.

4. Direct suggestion uses the command or request ; indirect suggestion a flankwise approach.

( 138)

5. Suggestibility is the degree to which an individual responds promptly to objective stimuli.

6. Suggestion is the main dynamic of the educational process.


1. What is suggestion?

2. Distinguish between suggestion and imitation.

3. How are suggestion and habit related?

4. Illustrate the differences between direct and indirect suggestion.

5. Illustrate a dangerous use of indirect suggestion.

6. In what way is flattery a form of indirect suggestion?

7. Cite a billboard advertisement using indirect suggestion.

8. In what way is auto-suggestion a form of indirect suggestion?

9. What is suggestibility?

10. Why does suggestibility (a) vary with gregariousness; (b) with climate; (c) with degree of isolation; (d) with degree of impulsiveness; (e) with sex; (f) with age; (g) with degree of fatigue; (h) with amount of knowledge; (i) with prestige of suggestion sources ; (j) with degree of crowd conditions ; and (k) with degree of reflectiveness?


1. Why are you suggestible?

2. In what particulars are you most suggestible? Least suggestible?

3. Are women more suggestible than men?

4. What is muscle-reading?

5. What is the relation of muscle-reading to so-called mind-reading?

6. Why does your throat ache "after listening to a speaker who forms his voice badly ?"

7. 'Why is it safer "on meeting a formidable animal" face to face in the jungles of Africa to stand than to run?

8. Is a person suggestible when asleep?

9. Is an underfed person more suggestible than a well-fed person?

10. What rule may a novice follow in driving a nail in order to avoid hitting his thumb?

11. What is the suggestion in the politician's slogan: "Let us pass prosperity around"?

12. What difference does it make whether clerks ask, "Shall we send the

( 139) package?" or, "Shall we send the package, or will you take it with you?"

13. From the standpoint of the average person what is the difference in suggestion between the two signs : "Keep off the grass," and "Why not keep on the sidewalk?"

14. What suggestion does "a brass-trimmed, marble-faced, mahogany-up-holstered bank" make to an immigrant from South Europe?

15. What suggestion does a $6,000 limousine make to the average honest but poor man?

16. What suggestion is made by a dentist's sign which shows a large tooth deeply embedded in the gums?

17. What do the extravagant dresses of the wife or daughter of a lawyer suggest to the client?

18. Why can one easily walk a narrow plank that lies on the ground, but not one which extends across a deep chasm?

19. What is the danger in talks "on sex hygiene before the segregated pupils of the public schools"?

20. How do you account for the moral influence of certain teachers, and the lack of it in others who are equally well-intentioned?

21. How do you explain "the deadliness of the innuendo"?

22. Why is faint praise "more damaging than downright depreciation"?

23. Explain the suggestion in the statement : He protests too much.

24. Why is it usually true that the best way to get the offer of a coveted position is not to seem too anxious for it?

25. What is (a) the direct suggestion and (b) the indirect suggestion in a motion picture showing a crime being committed with the criminal ultimately being caught?

26. Compare from the standpoint of suggestion (a) a spacious sales room for a bargain sale, (b) a small sales room of bargains, and (c) a narrow runway leading from the elevator to a good-sized room of bargains.


Baldwin, J. M., Mental Development (Macmillan, 1898), Chs. VI, IX, XII.

Binet, Alfred, La suggestibilité (Paris, 1900).

Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order (Scribners, 1902), Ch. II.

( 140)

Ellwood, C. A., An Introduction to Social Psychology (Appleton, 1917), Ch. X.

Ewer, B. C., Applied Psychology (Macmillan, 1923), Ch. IV.

Gardner, C. S., Psychology and Preaching (Macmillan, 1918), Ch. X.

Gowin, E. B., The Executive and His Control of Men (Macmillan, 1915), Ch. XII.

Gumplowicz, L., "La suggestion sociale," Rivista ital di sociol., IV: 545-55.

Howard, G. E., Social Psychology (syllabus, Univ. of Nebraska, 1910), Ch. II.

Keatinge, M. W., Suggestions in Education (London, 1911).

McDougall, William, An Introduction to Social Psychology (Luce, 1914), pp. 96-107.

Munsterberg, Hugo, On the Witness Stand (Doubleday, Page: 1909), PP. 175-199.

Platt, Charles, The Psychology of Social Life (Dodd, Mead: 1922), Ch. VII.

Ross, Edward A., Social Psychology (Macmillan, 1908), Ch. II.

———, Social Control (Macmillan, 1910), Chs. XII, XIV, XV.

Schmidkunz, H., Psychologie der Suggestion (Stuttgart, 1892).

Sidis, B., The Psychology of Suggestion (Appleton, 1911).


  1. The Psychology of Suggestion (Appleton, 1911),p. 15.
  2. E. A. Ross, Social Psychology (Macmillan, î9o8), Ch.II.
  3. See the section on "repression" in Chapter II for a further explanation of this point.
  4. From the unpublished notes of a "special" school teacher of Los Angeles.
  5. Alexander Johnson, Adventures in Social Welfare (Fort Wayne, Ind., 1923), p. 139.
  6. Boris Sidis, The Psychology of Suggestion (Appleton, 1911), p. 23 ff.
  7. A graphic presentation of direct and indirect suggestion and immediate, mediate, and counter suggestion according to Dr. Sidis in terms of the sensori-motor arc is given in his Psychology of Suggestion, p. 43.
  8. Social Psychology, Ch. VII.
  9. An Introduction to Social Psychology (Luce, 1914), Ch. IV.
  10. Social Psychology (Holt, 1923), p. 127.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2