In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Meaning and Definition of Suggestion 2. Experiment on Suggestions 3. Nature 4. Factors 5. Types 6. Role 7. Limitations.
Meaning and Definition of Suggestion:
Suggestion is the sharing of thoughts of others. It is the unwitting acceptance of ideas of others. If we accept the ideas of others after deliberate argumentation and discussion that is not suggestion. The process of acceptance here is unwilling.
Many psychologists have therefore presented a number of definitions:
“Suggestion is a process of communication resulting in the acceptance with conviction of the communicated preposition in the absence of logically adequate grounds for its acceptance.”
(ii) Sir T.P. Nunn:
Regards suggestion as an involuntary following of some one’s idea.
“Suggestion is the cognitive aspect of herd instinct.”
“Suggestion is an un-reasoned acceptance.”
“Suggestion is the awakening of a like mental attitude by means of inner imitation.”
If we analyse the above definitions, we come to the following characteristics:
(a) Suggestion needs two persons, one who receives, and the other who gives.
(b) The process is unwilling on the part of the person who receives the ideas.
(c) The process may be deliberate on the part of the person who suggests.
(d) The person who receives the ideas, accepts these as his own, never dreaming that these are external.
(e) There is no logically sufficient grounds for the acceptance of these ideas.
(f) Suggestion can be both good or bad. Mark Antony received the suggestion from Cassius that Caesar is a tyrant, and this led to the assassination of Caesar. Alexander received suggestion from Aristotle that his task is to rule over the world.
(g) Suggestion is a form of gregarious instinct, in its cognitive aspect. It is unconscious imitation on cognitive level.
In the process of suggestion, the instinct of self-abasement and feelings of inferiority on the part of the subject (the person receiving suggestion) and the instinct of self-assertion on the part of the person suggesting work.
The child gets suggestions from the parents, elders and the teacher. An adult gets suggestion from those in higher position or those superior in age, experience and knowledge.
Suggestion has got various degrees, depending upon the extent of suggestibility. It is extreme in hypnotism. In a hypnotic trance the subject readily accepts the idea from the hypnotiser.
Experiment on Suggestions:
Several experiments have been conducted on suggestibility:
(i) For example, Seashore and Aussage gave a piece of wire to the subject, and asked him to feel the warmth of the wire, as soon as the electricity is allowed to pass through the wire. The switch is kept out of sight. It is found that the subject reported warmth, when the bulb got lit, although no electricity was allowed to pass through the wire in the hand.
(ii) The experimenter gives some pictures to children, and asks some suggestive questions such as ‘what is the king doing?’ ‘What does the beggar want to say ?’ The children accept the suggestion that, the well-dressed person in the picture is the king, and the ill-clad person is the beggar.
(iii) The hypnotiser suggests to the subject that he will relax and go to sleep and that he will hear the voice of the hypnotiser and none else. This suggestion actually puts him to sleep.
Nature of Suggestibility:
Suggestibility is the extent to which a person can be suggested. Children, weak persons and less intelligent persons are prone to suggestion very much. In the case of some persons, the resistance to suggestion may be great, and they are not so easily suggestible.
Suggestibility can be measured by conducting an experiment. We give a number of suggestions to a person, and find out as to how many suggestions he received out of these.
If S.G. is the number of suggestions given, S.A. the number of suggestions accepted by the subject, and C the coefficient of suggestibility, C can be calculated by the following formula:
If we give 20 suggestions to a child, and he accepts 12, the coefficient of suggestibility will be 12/20 or 6.
Suggestibility depends upon a number of factors, as given below:
Factors of Suggestibility:
Children are more suggestible than adolescents, and adolescents are more suggestible than adults. Suggestibility decreases with age, experience and maturity.
Children are more suggestible because:
(a) They lack experience,
(b) They lack reason,
(c) They lack the power of criticism of new ideas,
(d) They are aware of their inferiority,
(e) They do not get satisfactory answer to their questions, and that
(f) They look upon elders as superior beings.
Higher the level of intelligence, lesser the suggestibility. Dull children are easily suggestible. The children of superior ability begin to question and argue. Relate a fairy tale or a ghost story to an intelligent child. He will question the existence of fairies, and the possibility of flying. A dull child will assume whatever he is told.
Boys are regarded less suggestible perhaps because it is easy to arouse their feeling and sympathy, or because they have limited opportunities of exercising their intellectual powers.
Higher the amount of knowledge the lesser the suggestibility. Men of Knowledge are enlightened persons and they have a critical attitude which brings forth resistance to suggestion. Hence suggestibility is inversely proportional to the amount of knowledge.
Persons who form conviction on any point resist suggestion on that point. It is difficult to suggest a communist to vote for a Congress leader, but easy to suggest an ordinary villager (who has no convictions of any kind) to vote for any-body.
If a suggestion relates an area of interest it is very strong. Suggest a candidate for Matriculation examination any important question or any short- cut method of preparing for the examination, he will accept the same. A person with chronic disease accepts all sorts of advice even from lay men.
A first year student of a college while searching a particular class-room accepts the mischievous suggestion from a senior student who leads him to girls’ common room. An unemployed young-man responds to each and every advertisement in the press, and accepts any suggestion from anybody regarding an opportunity for employment.
Some people are suggestible by their nature. They accept without criticism whatever they are told. Such credulous persons learn the lesson only very late.
Suggestion meets resistance in logical thinking, but it works smoothly in an emotional state of mind. Arouse first the emotions of a person, and then suggest. It works well, Shakespeare knew this principle, when he puts an emotional and suggestive speech in the mouth of Mark Antony.
(ix) Physiological Condition:
Suggestion works more in a state of fatigue, drowsiness, nervous strain, intoxication and mental depression. It meets resistance in a state of vigour and physical freshness. Suggestion work at its highest in the state of hypnotism, and in the state of intoxication through drinking. Drinking paralyses the central nervous system and blocks critical judgment and mental balance. In a state of low discriminative ability, suggestion does not meet any resistance.
(x) Type of Personality:
Introverts are less suggestible, as they have got firm convictions. Extroverts, by their nature of mixing others are prone to accept suggestions from them.
(xi) Source of Suggestion:
The strength of the suggestion depends upon the person who suggests. For children, parents, elders and teachers are superior persons, and hence strong source of suggestion. A boss, a political leader, a scholar, an un-experienced person command prestige and their word is an accepted doctrine. Vedas commanded prestige, and whatever was mentioned in Vedas was accepted by Hindus ‘for granted’ Gandhiji’s simple words had everlasting effect on the listeners.
Suggestions from great men have prestige effect. Even the suggestion from a teacher or a printed page, howsoever wrong, has a prestige effect on children.
Briefly speaking, suggestibility depends upon the source of suggestion:
(a) Whether it is a great man or a superior person,
(b) Whether it is from a man of prestige,
(c) Whether it is from a mass of individuals (such as a mob or a class), and
(d) Whether it is from the printed page or a strong advertising agency.
Types of Suggestion:
Suggestion can be classified on the basis of a number of criteria:
On the basis of the source of suggestion, there are:
(iii) Prestige suggestion and
(iv) Mass suggestion.
On the basis of the manner of suggestion given, we have:
(i) Positive suggestion,
(ii) Negative suggestion,
(iii) Positive auto-suggestion, and
(iv) Negative autosuggestion.
On the basis of the object of suggestion, we have form-suggestion which may be related to different fields such as aesthetic suggestion, religious suggestion, moral suggestion and intellectual suggestion. Illustration 5 presents all these various types.
A brief discussion of each type, and their educational implication is given below:
Sometimes a person gets a suggestion from himself, from his own inner conscience. In that case, the giver and the receiver of suggestion are the same person. Hence it is called self-suggestion or auto suggestion. A sick person may suggest to himself, ‘I am getting better, and better, day by day.’ A political leader suggests to himself, ‘I shall win in the elections’.
A candidate for examination suggests, ‘I shall definitely pass the examination’. In all these examples, the person thinks optimistically, and tends to improve his weak points. He talks with self-confidence. These are cases of positive auto-suggestion. In negative auto-suggestion, the person says, ‘I cannot pass the examination’, ‘I have a poor memory’, ‘I am unwanted by others’, ‘I do not command popularity’, etc. Thus the person underestimates himself, and talks with pessimism.
Educationally, positive auto-suggestion is very helpful. It builds self- confidence. The Indian army, with the positive auto-suggestion, “We are brave jawans’, displayed remarkable feats of bravery in recent military conflicts with China and Pakistan. A teacher should promote condition of positive autosuggestion in the class. It will infuse among the student’s optimism, self- confidence and positive attitude towards life.
Negative auto-suggestion is dangerous. It can lead a guilty person to depths of sin and crime, a weak person to extreme inertia, a backward student to repeated failures and so on. Psychologists and educationists of east and west have always commanded positive auto-suggestion in all puzzling situations and situations of mental distress, Patanjali, the famous Indian philosopher, stresses the need for this in order to maintain strong mental health.
He says, whenever a person feels weakness, let him say positively, ‘I am strong’. In sickness, let him say T am healthy’. This way, he will control his distressing thoughts. Distressing thoughts can be controlled by opposite elevating thoughts suggested through self.
If the source of the suggestion is a person not like by the subject, his suggestion gives an opposite effect. The child who has no confidence in his teacher or in his parent, refuses, to accept the suggestion simply because it comes from the un-liked person.
He not only refuses, but acts in the contrary. Suppose he is asked not to move from a particular seat, and the order is from the teacher who is unlike, the child will make it a point to move from his seat. This contra-suggestion works not only among children but adults as well. Why did Adam and Eve taste the fruit? It was forbidden, and hence contra-suggestion worked.
Educationally, speaking, all situations of contra-suggestion should be avoided. When the children lose faith in the teacher or the parent, when there is inward discontent in them, when they have not adjusted to the environment, they have a revolting attitude, which evokes contra-suggestion. Most cases of indiscipline in the school owe their origin to contra-suggestion. As such, the teacher should tackle the students with tact and sympathy and create confidence in them, so that his suggestions are readily accepted.
(c) Prestige Suggestion:
Prestige or authority helps in securing unresisting acceptance to an idea. We generally accept suggestion from elders whom we admire and respect and to whom we look up with veneration and confidence. We also accept suggestion from those who are superior to us in knowledge, experience, prestige and status.
What is the explanation for prestige suggestion? Ross says, “If one person adopts an attitude of deference to another he will readily accept his beliefs, opinions, and attitudes and this is true of all suggestions, whether in hypnosis or in the normal waking state. We are all prone to accept suggestion from persons in authority, from persons whom we admire, and from the printed page.”
Thus the first explanation is the attitude of difference. There is a further explanation for this sort of attitude. We have this attitude to another, when we lack the knowledge and training to oppose his views. At the base of this attitude is the attitude of submission towards others. Children submit to parents and teachers, as they regard them superior.
The common folk submit to the leaders and speakers at the political platform as they look at them with high esteem. It is also explained that some people imbibe and retain a habitual attitude of respect and obedience to others (parents, elders, bosses, and persons in power). Illiterate persons are persons with weak will always submit to others in prestige and power.
The educational implications of prestige suggestions are highly significant:
(i) The teacher, being a superior person in age, knowledge and experience, is in an advantageous position to make suggestions to his pupils, and let them accept those unconsciously. But he should not exploit this situation by indoctrinating his own prejudices and beliefs which are not shared by the society as a whole.
No teacher has the right to indoctrinate communist ideology in the school. Nor should the parents foster narrow communalism and selfish behaviour in the minds of their children at home. Positively, the staff of the school can foster unconsciously among the pupils cherished ideals and citizenship traits.
(ii) Secondly, the text-books commanding prestige through the printed words, should contain nothing that will give wrong suggestion to the pupils. Even the wrong statements made in the text-book, carry the day, in preference to the right statements made by the teacher.
It is no wonder if the pupil argues that cows laugh, because he had read in his text-book the phrase ‘cows laughter’, which is actually misprinted in place of ‘cows slaughter’. The printer’s devil must, therefore, be guarded against.
(iii) Thirdly, the teacher must bear in mind that his suggestions will be accepted, only when he commands respect and prestige, once he loses prestige all his direct or indirect sermons go waste.
(d) Mass Suggestion:
A man in a group is very much like a hypnotised person, as he is prone to submit to a large number. He accepts certain views because a large number of persons about him hold those views. Suggestion here depends upon the mere force of numbers, and it is called ‘mass suggestion’. Mass suggestion plays a great role in moulding the individual behaviour.
For fear of public opinion, Rama abandoned his dearest wife Sita. Widows in ancient India sacrificed their self at the funeral pyre of their husbands. Every man or woman, while taking a particular course of action, takes into consideration the social approval or disapproval of that action by muttering ‘what will the people say?’
Positively, when a number of persons suggest the same thing (right or wrong), the individual accepts that without argument. There is a story in Panchatantra, how a Brahmin was be fooled by some villains who one by one told him that the lamb he carried along with him was a dog, and the poor Brahmin had to believe it. Again, if the same thing is heard through different sources, say friends, press and radio, it is accepted unconditionally.
Advertisement for Binaca toothpaste is made through a number of agencies, and the people are influenced by that. Election propaganda also is made through a number of agencies only to create mass suggestion. Mass rallies, processions and mass agitation work on this very principle. Signature campaigns are made, so that an individual, un-willing to join a particular movement, is influenced by the mass of signatures. The Government also is moved by the mass protests.
Mass suggestion has a number of educational implications:
(a) A class is an organised group. If the whole class, or majority of the students arrive at a particular decision, the individual student is influenced by that. The group now wields power. If the majority of the students go astray, the remaining members also are prone to follow the majority. The teacher should be careful about this.
(b) The teacher should be sympathetic towards the class. He should win the sympathy of the majority. If he is not able to win their confidence, he may not be able to face the class. When he punishes one or two boys, he must see that the majority of the students is on his side. Otherwise mass suggestion will work, and there will be revolt from the entire class.
(iv) Positively, the teacher should build up nice traditions in the class. The new-comer automatically adapts himself to these traditions. Thus the tone of the class or the school is raised. Majority is authority. If the majority of the students maintain a particular tradition, all others shall have to follow the same.
An experiment was conducted in Madras regarding school uniform. The headmasters feared that prescribing a uniform would not work. As the parents belonging to lower-middle class or lower class would object to it. A headmaster made use of the mass suggestion. He provided thirty percent pupils (who were poor) with the uniform, free of charge.
When they came to the school in uniform, many others, who could afford to procure, followed the suit. For some time, 20 to 30 percent of the pupils did not come in uniforms. But in course of time, the mass-suggestion worked upon their minds, and they pressed their parents to procure the uniforms. A small number, who could not really procure, were aided by the school.
A principal of a training college, wanted to curtail the vacation period, in the interests of the students. Had he called a staff-meeting, and made the proposal, he would have been defeated. He persuaded individually a majority of the members, before he called a staff-meeting. When a majority cried, ‘agreed… agreed’, the unwilling members being overawed by the majority were both puzzled and silenced. Many people crying, ‘agreed, agreed’, works well in the assemblies, senates of the universities and all such public bodies, for carrying a proposal through.
(v) Positive and Negative Suggestions. Suggestions through positive statements are called positive suggestions. Negative sentences like ‘do not tell a lie, do not smoke, do not steal’ are sometimes employed by the parents and the teachers to desist the children from certain acts. These are negative suggestions. ‘Speak the truth’ gives positive suggestion; and ‘do not tell a lie’ gives negative suggestion.
Psychologists verdict that negative suggestions work in a wrong manner. The child, instead of following the suggestion, acts contrary to it. Firstly, he is puzzled as to why he should not do that act. Secondly, even after knowing that he should not do a particular act, he does not know what exactly he should do. Thirdly, the mere mentioning of a wrong act gives extra-suggestion. Hence instead of emphasising “don’ts”, “do’s” should be emphasised.
In the class-room situation, it is wrong, to suggest “don’t spell the word like this ?’ If the teacher writes the wrong spellings on the black-board, and forbids that spellings, the pupils may catch the wrong spellings rather than the right. On the other hand, write the correct spellings, and ask them to drill the same. Do not write any wrong sentence on the black-board. Invite the attention of the children to the right thing and no to the wrong thing.
(vi) Form Suggestion. Form suggestion depends upon the form in which the suggestion is presented. A church sermon gives a religious suggestion. A political party gives a political suggestion. A moralist gives a moral suggestion. A beautifully decorated place gives an aesthetic suggestion. A scholar gives an intellectual suggestion. Gandhiji gave suggestion of patriotism.
A school can give various forms of suggestion. If it is beautifully decorated, and if the class-rooms the compound and the lawns present an aesthetic appearance, the pupils are bound to develop aesthetic sensibility. Moral suggestions can be given at the morning assembly. The library will give intellectual suggestion.
Role of Suggestion in Education:
The educational implications of suggestion have already been discussed above, while dealing with each individual type of suggestion.
The generalisations are, however, summed up below:
(a) Role of the teacher:
The teacher wields prestige, authority, esteem and respect. He should make use of it through prestige suggestion. He should try to command respect through his scholarship, experience and tact. He should desist from punishing and creating revolting situations.
(b) Role of the pupil:
The pupil should allow himself to be guided by the thoughts of his parents and teachers who are more experienced. In words of Nunn, “the teacher is entitled to put his superior knowledge and experience of life into the common stock from which the growing minds of his little community may draw each, what it needs.”
(c) Formation of traits:
Suggestion helps in the development of information, moral behaviour, aesthetic sense and character traits. Good habits of conduct and valuable interests can be inculcated through suggestion. The moral influence of the elders is generally caught by them. The human personalities, surrounding the child, are the chief source of suggestions which mould his life. The study of biographies influence the character. The aesthetically decorated school campus fosters aesthetic sense. Sentiments of all types (moral, aesthetic, patriotic etc.) are developed through the suggestion by the elders.
(d) Effect of material tools:
The material equipment also has its suggestive influence. The printed page gives prestige suggestion. Hence the text-books should be of the standard quality. Biographies of great leaders will suggest patriotism and self-sacrifice. Class-rooms of different subjects should be so decorated with illustrative aids that these provide suggestive atmosphere.
(e) Effect of the manner of suggestion:
Negative suggestions should be avoided. Positive suggestions have the desired effect. Negative autosuggestion demoralises the individual. Hence positive auto-suggestion should be encouraged. Contra-suggestion also should be avoided. Best use of prestige suggestion and mass suggestion should be made.
Constant use of suggestion also is bad, as it fosters the habit of submissiveness. The pupils must also be induced to investigate and come to conclusion for themselves.
(f) Suggestion and fear:
Suggestion works best in the absence of fear.
(g) Suggestion and indoctrination:
The religious, social and political prejudices should not be indoctrinated to the pupils through suggestion.
(h) Suggestion problem children:
Delinquent children need sympathetic attitude coupled with positive suggestion. The frustrated child can regain self- confidence through auto-suggestion. Suggestions made at critical moments can serve as turning points in the life of a child.
Limitations of Suggestion:
(a) Suggestions given very often lose their effect, and impair the critical judgment and initiative of the pupils. Dumvile says, “In science, history, geography, arithmetic and even to a large extent in literature, the teacher’s chief aim should be to induce the children to investigate and to come to conclusions for themselves. They should not be led to adopt an attitude of passive acceptance of all that their teachers tell them.”
(b) Compulsion and fear should not accompany suggestion.
(c) Persons who hold firm convictions and prejudices with rigid attitude, do not accept suggestions. Old grand-mothers are least suggestive, and at the same time, old headmasters also are die-hards. Old conservative teachers will hardly accept any useful but new suggestion from the young teachers.
(d) Ideas not upheld by the majority, howsoever useful, are not accepted readily.
lnspite of all these limitations, suggestion is a psychological device that works wonders in the hands of skillful teachers and parents.