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THE CONDITIONS OF NORMAL SUGGESTIBILITY
1. THE first and general condition of normal suggestibility is fixation of the attention.
In all my experiments the one indispensable condition was to fix the attention on some spot and then to prepare the subject for the acceptance of the suggestion. I asked the subject to look on some particular point chosen by me, the time of fixation usually varying from two to five seconds. In my experiments with letters and figures the attention of the subject was fixed on the white surface of the screen for about two seconds before the first character of the series appeared; then, again, between each figure or letter and the next following there was an interval of two or three seconds during which the subject had to look fixedly at the uniformly white screen. In my experiments with coloured squares, or on choice suggestion, the condition of fixation of attention was scrupulously observed; the subject had to fix his attention on a particular point for five seconds. The same condition was observed in my experiments on suggestion of movements and of acts. The fixation of attention, as I said, was usually not continued longer than five seconds. Thus, out of 4,487 experiments made on suggestion, only 500 experiments (those dealing with suggestion of movements) had a fixation time higher than five seconds.
Fixation of attention is one of the most important conditions of normal suggestibility―so much so that when this condition was absent the experiments were unsuccessful: the suggestion given invariably failed. The subject declared he was disturbed, mixed up, that he was not in the mood, that he could not make up his mind to "Write anything, to execute movements, or to choose squares.
2. The next condition of normal suggestibility is distraction of the attention. The subject had to fix his attention on some irrelevant point, spot, thing that had no connection with the material of the experiments, no resemblance to the objects employed for suggestion. Usually I asked my subjects to fix their attention on some minute dot, because a large spot or a big object might have interfered with the suggestion, on account of form, size, etc. The attention had to be diverted from the objects of the experiments. I found that when this condition of distraction of attention was absent the experiments, as a rule, failed. A. Binet, in his valuable article on Double Consciousness,1 the results of which we will discuss later on, tells us that the suggestion of movements brought about in healthy, normal persons when in their waking condition required one "necessary condition: that attention should not be fixed on the hand and what is taking place there." Now Binet made his suggestion experiments on the hand movements of the subject; the condition, then, he requires is that of distraction of the attention from the objects of the experiments.
3. In all the experiments I had to guard against variety of impressions. Slight noises coming from the adjoining rooms in the laboratory, a new man coming into the room where the, experiments were being carried on, a book dropping, an Italian playing on the street organ, and many other kindred impressions, were distinctly unfavourable to the experiments, and had to be avoided as much as possible. The subjects had to accustom themselves to the conditions and objects in the room, and any new impressions strongly interfered with the success of the suggestion. A fresh, new impression, however slight, proved always a disturbance. When the impression was a strong one, or when many impressions came together, the experiments were interrupted and the whole work came to a standstill. The experiments could be carried on only in a monotonous environment, otherwise they failed. Thus we find that monotony is an indispensable condition of normal suggestibility.
4. While fixing their attention the subjects had to keep as quiet as possible; for otherwise the subject became disturbed, his attention began to wander, and the suggestion failed. Before the experiments began the subjects were asked to make themselves as comfortable as possible, so that they should not have to change their position during the experiments. We find, then, that normal suggestibility requires as one of its conditions a limitation of voluntary movements.
5. Limitation of the field of consciousness may be also considered as one of the principal conditions of normal suggestibility. This condition, however, is in fact a result of the former ones―namely, fixation of attention, monotony, and limitation of voluntary movements; for when these last conditions are present the field of consciousness is contracted, closed to any new incoming impressions, limited only to a certain set of sensations, fixed, riveted to only a certain point. Contraction of the field of consciousness may, however, be effected where the other conditions are absent. A sudden, violent impression may instantly effect an enormous shrinkage of the field of consciousness, and then the other conditions will naturally follow, or rather coexist; for consciousness will reverberate with this one violent sense impression and will thus attend to only the latter. There will also be monotony, since this one sudden and violent sense impression tolerates few neighbours and drives out fresh incomers. Voluntary movements will then certainly be limited, since the stream of consciousness is narrowed, and along with it its ideomotor side. The fact that limitation or contraction of the field of consciousness may occur by itself without having been preceded by the conditions mentioned above led me to consider it a separate condition of normal suggestibility.
6. The experiments, again, could not be carried on without the condition of inhibition. I asked the subject that, when he concentrated his attention and fixed a particular dot pointed out to him, he should try as much as it was in his power to banish all ideas―images that had no connection with the experiments in hand; that he should not even think of the experiments themselves; in short, that he should make his mind a perfect blank, and voluntarily inhibit ideas, associations that might arise before his mind's eye and claim attention. Of course, this condition was rather a hard task for the subject to comply with, still it was observed as far as it was possible. When this condition was neglected by the subject the experiments invariably failed. Inhibition, then, is a necessary condition of normal suggestibility.
7. The very last condition, but at the same time the principal one, the most fundamental condition sine qua non experiments in normal suggestion, was immediate execution. The subject was told that as soon as he perceived the signal he should immediately write, act, or choose.
To make a synopsis of the conditions of normal suggestibility:
1. Fixation of attention.
2. Distraction of attention.
4. Limitation of voluntary movements.
5. Limitation of the field of consciousness.
7. Immediate execution.
1. See also his book, Les alternations de la personnalité.