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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SUGGESTION

Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

1898. New York, D. Appleton and Company.

 

CHAPTER V

THE LAW OF NORMAL SUGGESTIBILITY

        WE must turn again to our experiments and give a close study to the results obtained. We take choice suggestion first. Now, out of the six factors studied, four belong to direct suggestion and two to indirect suggestion. The factors of abnormal position, strange shape, coloured cover, environment, are of one type, while the factors of colour verbally suggested and place verbally suggested are of the other opposite type of suggestion. Is there any difference in the rate of suggestibility of the two types of suggestion? Yes, and a very good one, too. For even a superficial glance at the two tables of immediate and mediate suggestibility,1 if the latter are only inspected from the standpoint of the two types of suggestion, will at once disclose this radical difference. The average immediate suggestibility of the four factors belonging to the first typeto indirect suggestionamounts to 39.8 per cent, whereas the average rate of immediate suggestibility of the two last factors belonging to the second typeto direct suggestionamounts only to 24.1 per cent.

        And if we inspect the table of mediate suggestibility, we find again a similar difference; for the average mediate suggestibility of the first four factors belonging to the type of indirect suggestion gives a rate of 11.5 per cent.

        Whereas the average rate of mediate suggestibility of the last two factors belonging to the type of direct suggestion amounts to only 2.1 percent.

        The difference between the two types of suggestion becomes very striking indeed if we make a table of total suggestibilitythat is, if we add together the mediate and immediate suggestibility of each factor. Making thus the table and arranging the factors in the order of their respective rates of total suggestibility, we have the following results:2

Per cent
Strange shape................................. 56
Abnormal position........................... 53.2
Environment..................................... 52.6
Coloured cover................................ 43.9
Colour verbally suggested.............. 33.3
Place verbally suggested............... 19.9

     A mere glance at this table shows the great difference of the two types of suggestion; and this difference becomes yet more evident, still more striking, if we take the rate of the average total suggestibility of the first type of factors and compare it with that of the second. For the average total suggestibility of the first four factors amounts to as much as 51.4 per cent, while that of the last two amounts only to 26.6 per cent. The one rate is about twice the other. The conclusion is obvious, as it lies now before us clear and distinct in its outlines. In the case of normal suggestibility indirect suggestion is far more effective than direct suggestion.

        If we examine closer the nature of the last two factors, colour verbally suggested and place verbally suggested, factors which we classed in the type of direct suggestion, we find that they are only relatively direct; for, after all, the subject was not explicitly and directly told to take that colour. What we really must say of them is, that they far more approach the type of direct suggestion than the other four factors do.

        If now we inquire as to the rate of suggestibility when the factor is of the actual explicit type of direct suggestion, the answer is, naught. The experiments on suggestion of movements bring out clearly this answer. The suggestion employed there was that of the most direct and explicit kind, and, with the exception of Mr. S., the experiments proved a total failure. The subjects ironically complied with my command. The results were negativezero. Direct suggestion is at the freezing point of normal suggestibility. It is only in proportion as a given factor becomes more indirect that it rises in the scale of suggestibility. In other words, the more indirect a factor is the higher is the rate of its suggestibility.

        Should we like to have still further proofs we can easily get them; for a close scrutiny of the tables of immediate, mediate, and total suggestibility most clearly shows the truth of my position, namely, that in the normal state a suggestion is more effective the more indirect it is, and in proportion as it becomes direct it loses its efficacy. Abnormal position, strange shape, and environment are the most indirect, and they give the highest suggestibility (environment in mediate suggestibility gives a slightly higher rate because of the additional factor of attractiveness). Abnormal position and abnormal shape have about the same rate; for, on the whole, it makes no difference for man whether a familiar thing is put into an abnormal position or whether it appears in a strange garb: he is equally impressed and moved. As we come to the factor of coloured cover we find a slight decrease in the rate of suggestibility. For if we take the average immediate suggestibility of abnormal position and strange shape3 we have 45.4 per cent, while that of coloured cover is 38.1 per cent; the difference is 7.3 per cent; and we find a difference between the same factors in the case of total suggestibility, the difference being 10.6 per cent. Now the suggestion of coloured cover is somewhat more direct than that of abnormal position, or strange shape; for in spreading a coloured coyer over the squares, the subject, on seeing and fixing his attention on it, could not help suspecting that it was a square of the same colour that I wanted him to choose: opposition was aroused and the suggestion failed. Although I repeatedly baffled and disappointed the expectation of the subject by putting black squares under the coloured cover, or spreading one over a row of squares totally different in colour from that of the cover, still I could not completely dislodge the suspicion from the subject's mind; it was always lurking in the background of his consciousness.

        Of the two factors, colour verbally suggested and place verbally suggested, the former is more indirect than the latter. In the one I merely showed a square to the subject and asked him to determine the colour, without hinting my intention (the subject very frequently being absorbingly interested in guessing the name); while in the other the number of the place of the suggested square was called out during the removal of the coverthe hint, therefore, was more direct. If now we look at the tables of immediate, mediate, and total suggestibility of the two factors we find a great difference in their rates of efficiency.

    The immediate suggestibility of the
factor colour verbally suggested is............
28.8 per cent
while that of place verbally suggested is... 19.4 "
the difference amounting to........................   9.4 "
    The mediate suggestibility of the
factor colour verbally suggested is............
  4.4 "
while that of place verbally suggested is
but.................................................................
  0.5 "
the difference amounting to........................   3.9 "
    The total suggestibility of colour,
etc., is...........................................................
33.3 "
while that of place, etc., is........................... 19.9 "
the difference being.................................... 13.4 "

     If again we turn to our very first study with letters and figures, we find the results pointing to the same truth. The factors of frequency and last impression are far more indirect than those of coexistence and repetition, and we correspondingly find a great difference in their rates of suggestibility. Thus the average rate of frequency and of last impression is (63.3 + 42.6) 2 = 52.9 per cent; while the average rate of suggestibility of repetition and of coexistence is (17.6 + 6.6) 2 = 12.1 per cent, the difference being 40.8 per cent.

        The factor of last impression, again, is relatively more indirect than that of frequency, and correspondingly we find a difference in their rates of suggestibility.

     The factor of last impression gives..... 63.3 per cent
while that of frequency gives.................... 42.6 "
the difference being.................................. 20.7 "

        The factor of repetition is relatively more indirect than that of coexistence, in the latter the suggestion being almost grossly obvious, and once more we find a corresponding difference in their rates of suggestibility.

    Repetition gives.................................... 17.6 per cent
while the factor of coexistence gives......   6.6 "
the difference being.................................. 11 "

        Furthermore, the factor of last impression came with as high a rate as 63.3 per cent, but when the same factor of last impression enters into combination with that of coexistence, forming one factor of coexistence and last impression, the rate falls as low as 18.3 per cent, thus strongly contrasting the efficacy of direct with that of indirect suggestion.

        What is the outcome of this whole discussion? Nothing less than the law of normal suggestibilitya law which we shall find later on of the utmost importance.

        Normal suggestibility varies as direct suggestion, and inversely as direct suggestion.

 

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1.  See Chapter III, page 42, 50.
2.  See Chapter III, page 41.
3.  See Chapter III, page 42.

 

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