Sensitivity of an entranced subject to suggestion is the characteristic
and invariable accompaniment of the hypnotic state
and is also a distinctive feature of hysteria. Indeed, many scientists
gave to hypnotism the name ‘‘suggestion.’’ An abnormal
suggestibility implies some measure of cerebral dissociation. In
this state every suggestion advanced by the operator, whether
conveyed by word, gesture, or even unconscious glance, operates
with abnormal force in the brain of the subject, which becomes
relieved from the counterexcitement of other ideas and
In the view of psychologist Pierre Janet, all suggestibility
implies a departure from perfect sanity, but this, although perhaps
true in the strictest sense, is somewhat misleading, since
all individuals are more or less amenable to suggestion. In hypnotism
and hysteria, however, the normal suggestibility is
greatly exaggerated, and the suggestion, meeting with no opposition
from the recipient’s critical or judicial faculties (because
there are no other ideas with which to compare it), becomes,
for the time, the subject’s dominant idea. The
suggestion thus accepted has a powerful effect on both mind
and body; hence the value of suggestion in certain complaints
is incalculable.
The miracles of healing claimed by Christian Science, New
Thought, and other groups, the efficacy of a pilgrimage to
Lourdes, the feats of healing mediums—all testify to its powerful
Posthypnotic suggestion is the term applied to a suggestion
made while the subject is entranced but which is to be carried
out after awakening. Sometimes an interval of months may
elapse between the utterance of a command and its fulfillment,
but almost invariably at the stated time or stipulated stimulus
the suggestion is obeyed, the recipient usually being unaware
of the source of the impulse.
Autosuggestion does not proceed from any extraneous
source, but arises in one’s own mind, either spontaneously or
from a misconception of existing circumstances, as in the case
of a person who is persuaded to drink colored water under the
impression that it is poison and exhibits every symptom of poisoning.
Autosuggestion may arise spontaneously in dreams,
the automatic obedience to such suggestion often giving rise to
stories of ‘‘veridical’’ dreams.
The outbreaks of religious frenzy or ecstasy that swept Europe
in the Middle Ages were examples of the results of mass
suggestion (i.e., suggestion made by a crowd, and much more
potent than that made by an individual). Cases of so-called collective
hallucination may have the same cause.
Psychical researchers have been interested in suggestion because
it involves abnormal conditions of mind and body. It may
be an aspect of healing by faith, for suggestion can cause and
cure diseases and bad habits, remove inhibitions, mitigate deficiencies
of character, stimulate the imagination, vivify the
senses, and heighten intellectual powers.
William James described suggestion as ‘‘another name for
the power of ideas, so far as they prove efficacious over belief
and conduct.’’ According to F. W. H. Myers, the power is exercised
by the subliminal self. He defined suggestion as ‘‘successful
appeal to the subliminal self.’’ It is well known that dreams
may be influenced by external stimuli applied to the sleeper,
such as whispering in the ear or moving the limbs. Suggestion
is also a powerful factor in advertising, particularly in the use
of persuasive repetition and ‘‘subliminal suggestions’’ in television