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22 OCTOBER 2021 WorldWide Drilling Resource ® The Un-Comfort Zone II by Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. Psst, Subtle Suggestions Can Alter Your Behavior I have written about the importance of critical thinking, and how it can be impeded by cognitive biases. Another obstacle to the clarity of critical thinking can be the power of suggestion. The power of suggestion is very powerful indeed. If I say, “Don’t think of a red apple,” you are going to think of a red apple anyway, even if it is just the momentary flash of an image in your brain. And, when our subconscious mind is exposed to a constantly repeated message, it is going to penetrate unless we are paying attention. When it comes to advertising, most of us are accustomed to seeing the power of suggestion in action: a sizzling steak with crisscross grill marks, a steaming pizza with bubbling cheese, or lobster, shrimp, and crab drizzling with hot butter - all popping up on our screens around dinner time to trigger our appetites. How else is the power of suggestion being used? Is it being used for good or bad? The Healing Power of Suggestion - Most of us are also familiar with the concept of placebos which are (usually sugar pills) given to someone in a drug trial, who then gets better even though he or she did not receive the real medicine. Placebos work because of the power of suggestion. Another concept, nocebo , is when someone who is given a placebo experiences the adverse reactions or side effects attributed to the real medicine. I recently watched a documentary ( Mind Field, Season 2, Episode 6: The Power of Suggestion ) featuring a feasibility study conducted by Samuel Paul Louis Veissière, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and Jay Olson, Ph.D. Psychiatry, and professional magician, to determine if some childhood illnesses could be cured by the power of suggestion. The subjects of the study included a boy with chronic headaches; a girl with eczema who was compulsively picking at it and causing bleeding and scabbing; and a hyperactive boy with ADHD. They were put into a deac- tivated MRI scanner and told the treatment would help with their problems. After the treatments, all three children saw their symptoms go away. I was fascinated by the study and especially how Dr. Olson used his expertise in magic to increase the credibility of the procedures to make them more believable to the subjects. I reached out to Dr. Olson requesting an interview. I began by asking, “How did your background as a magician lead you to an interest in researching the power of suggestion?” Dr. Olson replied, “Magic led me to psychology. Magicians don’t know why magic tricks work; they know how to make them work; they know how to fool people; but they often don’t know the mechanisms underlying the different tricks. What pulled me into psychology was studying some of these tricks . . . and then I started using magic and a kind of deception that magicians use as a method to enable other things in psychology like new kinds of paradigms, and one of those paradigms we showed in that documentary where we were making people feel like we were controlling their mind.” He continued and said that led to his asking this question: “What if we could make people feel like they have more control over their symptoms?” (NOTE: In the documentary Dr. Samuel Veissière, qualifies this further by stating, “The work we do with children actually does not involve lying. We tell them at first that everything they see and everything we do in the lab is a suggestion. We explain to them that suggestion is a way to tap into the power of their mind, and we keep emphasizing even as they go into the scanner that it is their mind and their brain that is doing the healing, that they are basically reprogramming their own brain.”) Much of What You Believe May Be the Product of Suggestion - Hypnotists use the power of suggestion to help people change behaviors. They begin by getting the subject to relax. Once the subject is relaxed or in a trance (a state of semicon- sciousness between being asleep and awake), the hypnotist will make suggestions which will hopefully be accepted by the subject’s subconscious mind. In his book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television , Jerry Mander cites that many experts consider television watching to be on par with hypnotism. This made me wonder how the constant negative stories presented by the news media might begin to stack up and increase the levels of fear felt by the viewing audience. When people are frightened or otherwise thrown off balance, they are more prone to suggestion. For example, after seeing a news report of a tragic event such as an airplane crash, some people will be more likely to fear flying. People often overestimate the chances that it will also happen to them (see Availability Bias in my article: Cognitive Bias is the Loose Screw in Critical Thinking). Another example is when you hear on the news it is flu season, that suggestion may give you an expectation of catching the flu which might actually cause you to suffer flu-like symptoms. “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” ~ Malcolm X We watch television to relax and be entertained, however when we are not on guard against the power of suggestion, we are vulnerable to it; advertisers and media programmers count on this. Protect yourself by staying alert, or better yet, turn the TV off! Robert Robert is an innovation/change speaker, author, and consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive through innovation and with people who want to think more creatively. Contact him via e-mail to Editor’s Note: Due to limited space here in print, some of the documentary part of this article was removed. To read this article in its entirety, go to this page online at