An Introduction to Social Psychology
Chapter 19: Suggestion and Personality Development
Luther Lee Bernard
DEFINITIONS— Suggestion exists when any relatively uncritical and immediate response occurs to a stimulus by means of behavior mechanisms which have already been prepared. A suggested response is conditioned ordinarily to a symbol or cue and not to the perception of a total situation, although the term suggestion is also sometimes used to indicate the skillful organization and presentation by another person of stimuli which will compel or induce logically or emotionally the response desired. Since it is a concept adopted for the description of phenomena of a social character, its use is ordinarily limited to behavior in social situations, and especially to behavior in response to symbolic or cue stimuli coming from another person. The cue itself may be either a concrete perceptual or an abstract stimulus. In any case the stimulus is in the nature of an object, act, or symbol which is ordinarily perceived concretely and immediately.
A suggested response may be either imitative or nonimitative, according as it does or does not reproduce the behavior which originally served as the stimulus and which the symbolic or foreshortened cue now represents. If the response has been conditioned to a total stimulus situation which it does not reproduce or resemble, or if it has been conditioned to a symbolic stimulus merely by association of stimuli it is not imitative. In such a case it is even possible for the response to resemble the behavior of another, some part of which behavior serves as the cue to the response, without its being an imitated response. Such resemblance between the behavior of the two persons is accidental, and is likely to be confused with true imitation.
SUGGESTED AND RATIONAL BEHAVIOR DISTINGUISHED —
(283) The suggested response may occur consciously or unconsciously. As a matter of fact most suggested behavior, in the sense in which we are here considering it, is only partly conscious. The greater the degree of the interruption of the suggested behavior, the more conscious the response is, and the more critical or analytical we are of it. Hence the less immediate and more rational the response is, the less truly suggested is the behavior. Purely suggested behavior would be wholly unconscious, or at least unpremeditated and immediate. But there are all degrees of modification of the suggested response from that which is purely automatic and is conditioned to an abbreviated or symbolic cue to that which is in the nature of a rational response. The characteristic of suggested behavior is that it approaches the automatic, while rational behavior is ordinarily highly conscious and is controlled by abstract psychic mechanisms. In suggestion the stimulus situation is ordinarily reduced to a symbolic cue, while in rational behavior the stimulus situation may take on a succession of forms, sometimes even contradictory, and be highly differentiated and spread out over a considerable period of time. Also the suggested response, in its purest form, comes almost immediately after the stimulus is given. Delay in the response means either that thought is entering in to elaborate the response on a more or less critical or rational basis or that there is some hidden unconscious conflict which will not allow the impulses normally arising from the stimulus to go over into immediate action.
Suggestion occurs in the realm of ideas and attitudes or neuro-psychic behavior as well as in that of overt behavior, but the purest forms of suggestion go over immediately into overt responses. Psychic responses to suggestion are never rational in character, for by becoming rational they would cease to have the characteristics of suggested behavior, such as immediacy, automaticity, and unconsciousness. Suggested psychic responses are stereotyped responses, such as conventional beliefs, emotions, desires, opinions, and expressions of polite intercourse. The mechanism for the psychic response is already present, and all that is necessary to put the mechanism into effect is to present the appropriate cue or abbreviated stimulus. The essential characteristic of suggestion is that the stimulus,
( 284) usually in the form of a cue or a symbol of the total stimulus, is conditioned definitely to the response, with the result that the conditioned response occurs immediately upon the occurrence of the stimulus or cue.
THREE ASPECTS OF SUGGESTION— Suggestion, as Allport says, may be considered from three standpoints. In the first place, it may be treated as the building up in the individual of those stimulus-response mechanisms which predispose him to behave in particular ways. Such dispositions to activity are usually organized around more or less native drives or prepotent impulses, such as those concerned with food, sex, fear, gregariousness, and the like. However, behavior dispositions of unusual strength may also be organized around acquired tendencies or habits, such as political beliefs, religious loyalties, gardening, golf, reading, or even our food, friendship, esthetic and courtship preferences, or any other activity or attitude. It is possible, if enough attention is given to the matter, to organize a disposition to behavior of any sort which functions with the automaticity and readiness of a suggested response.
The second and most common use of the term suggestion is to consider it as the "signal (social stimulus) which releases the attitude already established." Objectively we know this situation by observing the immediate and complete response in people when certain cues or stimuli are presented to them. When people are highly suggestible or strongly conditioned to any particular stimulus we say they are "quick on the trigger," meaning by the "trigger" their disposition to respond. The thing which pulls the trigger is the stimulus or cue. Subjectively we may recognize the stimulus as something highly desirable or towards which we are very antagonistic. Even if we have no positive attitude of seeking or avoiding the stimulus, we cannot be emotionally indifferent to it. It excites us.
The third sense in which we use the term suggestion is to indicate a stimulus which increases or augments a response to a releasing or suggesting stimulus or cue already operating. This intensification of response is sought by advertisers and propagandists generally. This third aspect of suggestion is
( 285) closely allied in form to the first, but comes farther along in the behavior process. All three aspects are essential to the complete definition of suggestion, but we ordinarily have in mind primarily the second aspect of suggestion, or the highly automatic and relatively immediate response to a preconditioned stimulus. The first aspect is not essentially different from any other type of conditioning of response. In such a sense, any stimulus could be said to "suggest" its conditioned response. The same may be said of the third form. The second usage is preferable because it defines suggestion in terms of its most essential characteristics, the strength of the conditioning, the automaticity and the relative immediacy of the response.
INSTINCTIVE AND ACQUIRED ELEMENTS IN SUGGESTION— Considered from the standpoint of the behavior pattern, suggested behavior is always a conditioned response, unless we may assume that there is an instinctive connection between particular responses and corresponding stimuli. We find many cases in which reflex or instinctive processes are set off automatically by suggestion. But it is not an instinctive release which serves as the suggestion cue. Thus the pin prick causes an automatic, although not a well controlled or coördinated, movement of the body. Light causes the eyes to wink, at least within a short period after birth. The patellar reflex, swallowing, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, etc., all seem to be definite instinctive or reflex responses to definite and specific stimuli. Yet we would scarcely call any of these reflex responses suggested unless they have been conditioned by association to some cue or stimulus which did not originally have the power to release them. And this, of course, frequently occurs, as in the case of yawning. It is the perception of some one else, or even ourselves, performing the act which releases the instinctive mechanism. Or it may be some other stimulus of a non-personal and non-behavior sort, not originally adequate to release the response, which has become an adequate cue to the act through the process of conditioning. In the case where the perception of the other person performing the act becomes the effective cue we have suggestion imitation; in other cases, merely suggestion. The usage appears to be to reserve the term suggestion or suggested behavior for those automatic and
( 286) immediate responses, whether instinctive or acquired, which have been conditioned to particular specific stimuli or cues by association rather than by inheritance.
ABBREVIATED OR SYMBOLIC CONDITIONING OF THE RESPONSE IN SUGGESTED BEHAVIOR— The response may or may not have some similarity to the stimulus. If it is similar to it, the chances are strong that the response was at one time consciously imitative, and that it has now been transformed into suggested behavior by becoming relatively automatic and perhaps by dispensing with the necessity for a perception or recognition of the total behavior stimulus. In such cases of substitution of suggestion imitation for conscious or rational imitation, some conspicuous portion of the total behavior stimulus will ordinarily be singled out to serve as a cue and will condition the response as a whole to itself. This specific portion of the original complete stimulus is now sufficient to produce the total response. Perhaps in the organism's attempt to economize attention no more than this particular selected portion of the stimulus is any longer perceived or recognized. Yet, in real life, such an isolated or selected portion of the original stimulus-giving behavior is not likely to operate alone, unless it be artificially isolated by the subject's attention. In most cases the original total behavior stimulus continues to function, and to the uncritical or unanalytical observer it appears to be necessary to set off the response. Therefore, even if the observer has made the delimitation of the stimulus which we have set forth above, he is likely to mistake such a response for a conscious act of imitation.
This is as true of psychic as of overt responses in suggestion imitation. For example, the mere sight of a certain book or picture or the oral or visual presentation of its title, may be sufficient to set up the habitual or stereotyped line of thinking which we have previously established through abstract imitation of it. It is not necessary actually to reread the book in order to recall the contents which have become conditioned to the title or to the image of tile book through their constant association with these symbols. Much also that we do of a similar nature when in the presence of others, although it was originally consciously imitated behavior, is no longer such.
( 287) We have the mechanisms of response already fixed or stereotyped and it is merely necessary to receive the selected conditioning stimulus of the presence of the other person or of the perception of some article belonging to him or associated with him to put the behavior in operation. Thus the mere presence of people in a crowd looking toward the top of a building will cause us to look up, expecting to see a man climbing the wall or smoke issuing from the windows. A picture of people at a football game in the attitude of cheering or singing will call up in the inner or attitudinal behavior of the subject the words of a cheer or of a song, which may or may not be the one which these people are shouting or singing. Acting under the influence of the selected stimulus or cue he responds with the behavior pattern which is preconditioned in him. Such a response is still truly imitative, but it is suggestion imitation, and is not rational or even necessarily conscious imitation. However, non-imitative suggested behavior operates by the same partial or substitute mechanism.
STEREOTYPING THE SYMBOLS CONDITIONING SUGGESTED RESPONSES— Thus the stimulus which sets off a suggested response is nearly always a symbol which has come by substitution or by selective elimination to condition the original response. In the type of cases just described, where suggestion imitation behavior is substituted for conscious imitation behavior, selection of an outstanding portion of the original total behavior stimulus by means of elimination is the method ordinarily used. The effective stimulus is here a selected partial stimulus. But in many, perhaps in most, other cases the stimulus is a complete substitution, depending wholly upon similarity or association in time or spacial contiguity for its chance to condition the original response. In such cases there may be no recognizable similarity of the stimulus to the response which is conditioned to it. In fact the stimulus or cue may not even be a part of the behavior of another person. This substitute conditioning of the response occurs especially in connection with language symbols. Any word or phrase or gesture or facial or other expression may become associated with ally response and thereafter call forth the response by suggestion, although it may have nothing to do with the situation in which
( 288) the behavior was originally learned or imitated. Thus the word "eventually" has come to have the power of suggesting Gold Medal flour to millions of people. Likewise such conditioning symbols as commands, prohibitions, words or gestures denoting things, qualities, action, etc., must at some time in human history have come to be associated with behavior which they conditioned for the first time in this manner. Consequently in the life of each child they are made, as a part of his training, to condition his behavior through such arbitrary association. Words and gestures as language symbols are also associated with our ideas and attitudes in exactly the same manner and become capable of calling up any sentiment, belief, judgment or train of thought which has become stereotyped and has been conditioned to these stimuli. This is in fact the method of the origin of language and shows how meaning is conveyed through language from one generation or age to another. This fact will explain why certain stock phrases, shibboleths, proverbs, and the like are so effective in gaining the desired response through advertising, propaganda literature, newspapers, the oratorical efforts of revivalists, political spell-binders, and the like.
THE CONTINUITY OF MEANING AND STEREOTYPED SYMBOLS — A very large portion of the symbols which serve as suggestion stimuli for the release of conditioned responses are of this long time stereotyped character. That is, they remain the same or almost the same from year to year and from generation to generation. Each child does not create them for himself, but acquires them or learns them from others. They are a part of his social heritage. This is true not only of words and phrases and sentences and systems of knowledge, such as sciences and philosophies, but it is also true of those symbolized personal and social values which condition our behavior with reference to men, groups, and things. It is as true of emotional as of intellectual symbols. The esthetic values in art are transmitted from one generation to another and from one individual or group to other units of the same character. Although we do not always fully realize its Pictures, statuary, music, ritual, poetry, have meanings which are dependent primarily upon this continuity in transmission, just as is the case with meaning which reposes in intellectual symbols. The
( 289) meaning of art and of science is not a function of the symbols which represent or condition them to us, but it resides in the persons whose responses, overt and internal or attitudinal, are conditioned to the symbols. The symbols are merely the communicative media which carry the meaning from one person to another through the process of conditioning by association. Once the chain of conditioned responses is broken by omitting a generation of men thus conditioned to respond psychically and overtly to these symbols, their meaning is gone. Such has actually happened at times in history, where whole systems of symbols, like the languages and the writing and culture of the Hittites and the Philistines and the Minoans have been lost because the chain of conditioned responses which preserved the meaning of their writings was broken. As yet no one has been able to recondition his responses to these symbols in the same way in which these ancient peoples had conditioned theirs and thus to interpret their meaning. Consequently their cultures are to us sealed books and their symbols have lost completely their original power of suggestion.
CONTRASUGGESTION— In contrasuggestion, in suggestion by negation, and in partial suggestion and inference, the same principle of the conditioning of responses by cues or symbols obtains. Contrasuggestion is a pathological phenomenon arising ordinarily in people who are attempting to compensate for a feeling of inferiority. Believing, however unconsciously or subconsciously, in the necessity of self-assertion as a method of hiding a weakness of personality, they develop the habit of responding with the directly opposite form of behavior from that which is indicated to most people by the symbol or cue which they receive. Such tendencies to contrasuggested behavior are particularly likely to develop in too much hectored children, henpecked husbands, and overdominated wives, also in employes who feel that they have been mistreated. Occasionally voters, too long maneuvered by a political boss or a machine which they have come to mistrust, develop the habit of voting by opposites. The writer has heard a number of people say, apparently with more seriousness than humor, that they determined how they would vote by ascertaining whom certain newspapers would support and then deciding to cast their
( 290) ballots for the opposing candidates. Sometimes people decide questions of policy in a very similar manner by putting themselves in opposition to the choices or advice of particular religious or propaganda organizations which they fear or dislike.
SUGGESTION BY NEGATION is particularly effective when employed with discretion. It is a form of contrasuggestion used for the purpose of emphasis. The method is to state the opposite of what one means and of what he intends others to understand he means, in such a way as to leave no doubt as to his own belief or attitude. This can be done in such a manner as to ridicule the view which the speaker opposes. Its most common and striking forms are sarcasm and irony. For example, some one may say of a man in public life, "He is a very public-spirited man." The answer to this statement, meant to suggest skepticism or ridicule, might be, "Oh, without doubt!" with an inflection on "doubt." Or the ridicule might be made more intense by saying, "What wonderful discernment of motives! I had never suspected it, really." Mark Antony's famous expression that Caesar's enemies were "all, all honorable men," made with an implied sneer, was well calculated to suggest just the opposite belief in his hearers. Another way of suggesting the opposite of the thing stated or indicated is to give the statement a pathetic turn which carries ethical doubt or may even imply that to believe the opposite is too terrible to be entertained. Such an effect may be produced by answering the first statement recorded above, to the effect that the public man has a public spirit, by saying hesitatingly, "Y-e-s, one would suppose so," or "One certainly would not wish to believe otherwise," or "Whom can we trust if not him? Let us believe in him as long as we can." Iago made striking use of this negative form of suggestion in inciting Othello to suspicion of Desdemona. Skilled political orators and partisan newspapers are frequently past masters of this technique. Mr. Dooley has shown us some good examples of its use in a telling, humorous, rather than in a biting, sarcastic, manner.
PARTIAL SUGGESTION is Often employed in connection with negative suggestion. In fact, some of our examples in the preceding paragraph illustrate both types of suggestion. Partial
( 291) suggestion is especially effective where the suggester wishes to give the appearance of exercising care and restraint in pronouncing a judgment. He may seem to be uncertain himself. In such a case he is likely to state the argument both for and against the proposition, possibly with more emphasis upon the side to which he inclines than upon the other side. This method may be used to suggest a condemnation of the views held by another whom it is not expedient to oppose obviously, or to support one's own views which one does not feel it safe to state openly and frankly. Affirming the viewpoint of the other side, perhaps with an air of suppressed doubt, and then stating the opposite, as if in all fairness, as others might be expected to see it, will often plant the seeds of doubt in the mind of another person who never before knew there was more than one side to the question, to sprout there and later to bear fruit. This can be done all the more easily with people who are highly suggestible. Thus one may say of the supposedly public-spirited politician referred to above, "Yes, he has always given his best energies to the service of the people" (following with examples). Then it may be added, "But while we understand this," etc., or, to be a little more strenuous in the suggestion, "Yet it must be admitted that he has never satisfied his enemies regarding . . . (certain deals)," or "It certainly is to be regretted that he never cleared up that affair. Although his friends will stand by him, it will never cease to be something of a blemish on the reputation of a man of wonderful power and achievement, and may in the end spoil his place in history."
If the words of praise can be aside from the point as urged by the one who is the object of suggestion, as in the last statement above, where his personal success rather than his public service is commended, and the words of implied criticism are directed toward the issue under discussion, the partial suggestion is more effective. An example of supporting one's own cause by partial suggestion may be cited as follows: "Yes, I know I was to Maine in the situation and T won't try to make any excuse. I only wish I had understood the danger better," or: "I realize there is nothing to be said in his favor, yet I feel sure that he is good at heart and if he could have had
( 292) better training and a happy home this thing would not have happened." The advantage of such a method lies largely in the fact that the opponent is conciliated by agreement and the suggestion in favor of the other side is introduced under cover of a benevolent emotion or attitude.
WIT AND HUMOR are also forms of suggestion. When a newly associated verbal stimulus unexpectedly releases an idea or emotion which is taboo we speak of the expression as witty. The inhibition or censorship is covertly removed without the removal being made obvious. "Brevity is the soul of wit" because the witty cue or expression must be merely suggestive. It must not be detailed or it may cross the line of social acceptability. Humor is not so much the releasing of an inhibited response in all cases, as the releasing of an unexpected or incongruous and illogical one by suggestion. Humor, like wit, must be trenchant and brief. If one attempts to explain the point of a joke it loses its cogency. The response is no longer unexpected or suggestive and it ceases to be funny. Mellow humor, so-called, is characterized by sentimentality. A situation which gives us an opportunity to feel superior to another is likely to be considered funny. Situations in which we can make fun of people, or see them in positions of outraged dignity, are funny because they release responses which are usually inhibited but satisfying to us. Humor of this type resembles, in a measure, the nature of wit. One's sense of humor depends upon the type of response which is released or suggested. Thus we speak of coarse and refined humor, rough and gentle, malevolent and kindly humor, etc. What appears humorous to one depends to a large degree upon his training. Wit also may be sharp and biting, spicy, keen, scintillating, etc. Wit and humor may use any of the forms of suggestion described above.
AUTO-SUGGESTION is a process by which something in the subject — a memory or other complex or set or derivative sensory process— sets off responses, overt or psychic, without the apparent intervention of peripheral stimuli. Or, if there are peripheral stimuli, they are merely incidental to or in the nature of releases for the internal sets or drives. Of course all suggestion is in a certain sense auto-suggestion, because the
( 293) essence of suggestion is in the fact that the response occurs on the basis of an inner impulsive mechanism which is released by a mere cue or symbol. In ordinary suggestion this cue operates from the outside, while in auto-suggestion so-called the cue exists in the inner or neuro-psychic behavior. Sometimes the internal releases are isolated and merely touch off a particular kind of overt or psychic response which terminates when it has run its course, without repetition. In other cases the process of auto-suggestion is circular or serial. In cases of circular auto-suggestion the response to the internal release mechanism or cue reinstates the stimulus or release in the psychic mechanism, while in the serial type the response either acts as the release to another conditioned response or sets up such a release mechanism for another response. Auto-suggestion, at least in its milder and non-pathological forms of circular responses, is a frequent form of behavior. Some overt or symbolical act or some memory apparently unconnected with any immediate external stimulus or condition suddenly calls forth an exclamation or an overt response or a train of thought. In the last case the train of thought may go on indefinitely through a chain process of auto-suggestion, one thought or image releasing another, as in reverie, until one has reviewed a considerable portion of his past history or has built a multitude of castles in Spain. Much thinking of a functional sort, aiming at external adjustment, consists largely of auto-suggestion, although of course not wholly of such.
In overt behavior also auto-suggestion operates to a considerable extent by the chain method. Some internal stimulus or cue, such as a memory image, perception, or idea, or some overt response or symbolic act of the person, releases an exclamation or a movement, which in turn releases another movement, or perhaps a conversation with one's self. Such a conversation or even response of movements to other movements may go on for some considerable time without ceasing or coming under the dominance of external control stimuli. Autonomous conversations in particular are likely to occur in certain people, particularly in pathological cases. The verbal and sentence forms are of course largely stereotyped, as indeed the overt muscular responses are also. They are conversations or
( 294) responses which have been learned and practiced so often that each successive expression or movement is strongly conditioned to the one which preceded it. In abnormal cases such series of language or motor behavior are fairly frequent and once started or released they will continue automatically until the conditioned series is completed, unless terminated by a conflicting external or internal stimulus or set of stimuli or some other psychic complex.
It is the same or much the same with circular responses in auto-suggestion. Pathological persons often repeat a word or phrase or a train of imagery or a series of overt behavior over and over again, the last word or act having become the release for the initial stage in the series. In cases of dementia praecox this process sometimes appears to go on almost endlessly or ceaselessly. The normal child or adult may also repeat words or phrases as if for enjoyment for minutes or even an hour at a time when in a solitary situation. Most audible conversation with one's self seems to be largely automatic and stereotyped and of this circular or serial type or of both types combined.
AUTO-SUGGESTION AND HETERO-SUGGESTION COMPARED— It is difficult sometimes to distinguish auto-suggestion from hetero-suggestion; for, although no external stimulus or release may be observed by the subject or by another, there may still be such a release. Ideas and images scarcely arise spontaneously in the mind. They, like all other types of behavior, are conditioned to some sort of antecedent stimulus or process, internal or external. Sometimes this antecedent stimulus or release may be in the sensory-motor system or it may arise in the metabolic process itself. Or it may come from without in the form of some imperceptible, or almost imperceptible, stimulus from the clothing, the wind, temperature of the room, the light, the rustle of a curtain or a paper, a gleam of color, a word spoken or printed, even the recurrence of the same time of day or night, or week or year, or anything else seemingly trivial. Such slight stimuli have their power of release, not in their volume or intensity, but in the fact that the behavior responses have been previously conditioned to them. Their seeming complete automaticity is therefore illusional, for in
( 295) most, perhaps all, cases of auto-suggestion there is some external stimulus, or at least internal organic stimulus, however slight, which sets, up the process. However, the major part of the suggestion may still be auto-suggestion, for the train of thought or action which goes on probably depends more upon its inner organization and conditioning for its completeness or automaticity than upon the initial external or internal stimulus which releases it. But this internal conditioned mechanism for release by suggestion depends primarily or wholly upon past experience and practice and is therefore social and external in its origin. Consequently we may say that autosuggestion is as much a social or collective process as is any other form of suggestion, but less directly so.
DIRECT AND INDIRECT SUGGESTION differ primarily in the extent to which the ultimate stimulus is recognized as the source of our suggested behavior and the purpose of the manipulator of the suggestion is perceived. In direct suggestion the manipulator relies upon the strength 'Of the conditioning of the response to the stimulus and does not hesitate to bring himself out clearly into the foreground and issue commands or statements which he expects the other person or persons to accept and act upon. This method of suggestion is most effective when used by people who have prestige with the subject. Thus parents, teachers, ministers and priests, officials, employers, and others with authority or who are our recognized superiors, can afford to employ direct suggestion and may secure effective results from its use. They save time and energy simply by giving directions or commands or making descriptive and positive statements. But even when used by persons in authority this method of suggestion must be employed with tact and consideration for others. If the directly suggested person gets the impression that he is being manipulated contrary to his advantage and for the selfish purposes of another person, or if he feels that the suggestions are given harshly and without sympathy, or that they are commandments merely and not "suggestions," or advice, as that term is sometimes understood by induction, they are likely to lose their moral effect, although they may continue to be obeyed as a matter of policy. Many a parent has lost his or her moral prestige with a child by
( 296) employing direct suggestion too baldly and with too much show of authority. Employers and superintendents or foremen are more often hated because of the brutal directness and unsympathetic character of their suggestions or commands to laborers than for being hard taskmasters.
SUPERIORITY OF INDIRECT SUGGESTION— Indirect suggestion is usually better in every way except for the lack of economy of time and energy involved in using it and sometimes in the lack of clearness of the instructions. Sometimes there is even a saving of time and energy in the long run as the result of the use of indirect suggestion. Ministers perhaps should always employ it and teachers usually, parents and employers at least frequently. The public lecturer and the newspaper and periodical almost invariably make use of indirect suggestion. Its method is merely that of selecting by chance or intention some type of stimulus which calls forth the desired response in the subject without revealing the motive, or perhaps even the source, or the identity of the suggester. Thus one may say to a child who objects to taking his medicine that the medicine looks like honey, or some other substance which appeals to the child. Perhaps even this method is too direct and is likely to lead to suspicion or detection of ulterior motives on the part of the suggester. It may be better to ask the child what he thinks it looks like before offering it or if he doesn't think it looks like honey. Or it may sometimes be advisable for some one else to sample the substance and declare it tastes very much like honey. The child's eating responses are sufficiently closely conditioned to the stimulus of honey that he will take the medicine unless he suspects the purpose or content of the indirect suggestion.
METHODS AND EXAMPLES OF INDIRECT SUGGESTION— Indirect suggestions are best made by means of an incidental appeal to the appetites or interests and close associations of the subject. Indeed, no indirect suggestion can be very effective unless thus made. An indirect appeal to vanity is almost invariably successful. People will decide as if of their own initiative to do almost anything if the suggester has succeeded in conditioning the response to the stimulus of his approval of their personal appearance or conduct. The best way for lovers
( 297) or married people to make up after quarrels is for the offender, or at least the one who must assume the rôle of the offender, to become enraptured with the attractiveness of the other or to speak appreciatively of her many virtues, skillfully conditioning the desired response to the imputed qualities, which will readily be accepted and approved by the subject. This method does not always work so well with marital parties as with lovers, because the element of suspicion of motives or the lack of novelty of the device may have entered into the equation. Tom Sawyer's method of getting his fence whitewashed is a classic example of the employment of the method of indirect suggestion. The political orator's flattery of the reputed wisdom of the people, which he has skillfully associated with the response of voting for his candidate, affords another excellent illustration. The successful insurance salesman or book agent is a master of indirect suggestion. He tells you of all the élite who are his patrons and of the large amount of insurance they carry through his company or of the fine bindings they have purchased.
DANGERS OF INDIRECT SUGGESTION— But indirect suggestion is not without its faults and dangers. It can be employed for socially bad as well as for socially good ends even more effectively than direct suggestion. Direct suggestion brings the moral issue more clearly into view and if a choice is permitted more opportunity is provided for a rational decision on the merits of the proposition. The act or belief desired by the suggester is called by its own name and it is not hidden behind a simile or a compliment. But in the case of indirect suggestion the chief art is to cover up or lessen the direct adjustment significance of the response and to condition it to a motive or an attitude which is really extrinsic to the situation. One is induced to take medicine because it tastes or looks like honey, not because it cures an ill. Another yields to a lover because he thinks she is beautiful. A third votes for a bad candidate because he has been told that he (the voter) is a patriotic American Citizen. A forth purchases insurance of an agent because he is told that a railway president did likewise. There is always the danger that a decision may be a wrong one when made for extrinsic reasons. Certainly it is
( 298) not good moral training to be coddled and teased into doing things only on the basis of a personal selfish appeal to vanity or to the sense of approbation of superiors or to personal pleasure. It is better for one's moral fiber and self-respect, especially for his social and ethical outlook, to face propositions on their own merits. Perhaps there has been too much indirect suggestion used to control the younger generation. It is possible that they have come to feel that they must be wheedled into meeting their obligations to themselves and society. It sometimes looks as if they felt they were doing others a favor in living up to the best social and personal ideals. It is a difficult question to decide in any particular case, whether to use direct or indirect suggestion.
INNUENDO is a complex sort of suggestion which may make use of indirect, partial, or negative suggestion, or of any combination of these types. Its purpose is to convey a meaning which is not explicitly stated. It is sometimes also called insinuation. Some one wishes a window closed. He remarks that there is quite a draft or that it is becoming chilly in the room. This is sometimes called "hinting." If another person present can "take the hint" that person may close the window. Or it may be that some one wishes to be left alone or left with a third person. The suggestion may be conveyed in some relatively indirect or partial manner. An article of value may have been lost and some one present may be suspected of having taken it. Remarks employing indirect or negative suggestion may be made which are intended to convey the fact to the suspected person that he is under suspicion. This would be called innuendo or insinuation. Innuendo, insinuation, hinting, are very frequently used, sometimes because the suggester does not feel sufficiently confident of his impressions to make a direct statement, and sometimes because it would seem to the suggester to be impolite to deal frankly and "brutally" with the object personality involved. Thus politeness as a system is built largely upon suggestion. Sometimes innuendo is used as a method for the detection of guilt. The person who is suspected, realizing that he is under suspicion, betrays himself by his perturbation. However, the emotional response in such a case may easily be mistaken. Innuendo is a relatively poor
( 299) detective method. A more subtle method of arriving at the same result is the use of the word association test made familiar in this country some years ago by Professor Münsterberg in his book, On the Witness Stand.
Most people with a considerable development of self-feeling resent being subjected to innuendo or being the object of hints and insinuations. There is a strong trend in our present-day civilization, at least where democracy is best developed, to deal directly and frankly with others. Excessive politeness, which has been called a system of covert lying, is less valued than it was formerly. Among equals and in a situation where good will and good fellowship exist, such indirections as those here described are not necessary to oil the machinery of intercourse. They are more likely to block it. Apparently those civilizations, peoples, and classes in which there is least equality and safety and where status is least related to merit and service are the ones in which artificial politeness and indirection are most highly developed.MATERIALS FOR SUPPLEMENTARY READING
- Allport, F. H., Social Psychology, pp. 242-258
- Baldwin, J. M., Mental Development in the Child and the Race, Ch. VI
- Baudouin, C., Suggestion and Auto-Suggestion
- Bogardus, E. S., Fundamentals of Social Psychology, Chs. VII, XI
- Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order, Ch. II
- Follett, M. P., Creative Experience, Ch. III
- Gault, R. H., Social Psychology, Ch. VI
- Lumley, F. E. Means of Social Control
- McDougall, W., An Introduction to Social Psychology, pp. 96-100
- Martin, E. D., The Behavior of Crowds
- Park and Burgess, Introduction to the Science of Sociology, pp. 408-420
- Patrick, G. T. W., The Psychology of Relaxation, Chs. III, IV
- Ross, E. A., Social Control, Chs. IX, XXIII
- Sidis, B. The Psychology of Suggestion
- Stern, W., Psychology of Early Childhood, Ch. XXXII