Is Suggestibility a Trait of some Personality Types

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Ever wonder why you suddenly have the urge for chocolate in the middle of a TV program or jump up to go get popcorn just ahead of the theatre's main feature? It's probably because you have been subliminally impacted by a mere suggestion; a blip across the screen that has left you with a sudden explicable urge to head to the kitchen or lobby. Everyone is susceptible to an occasional instance of hypnotic suggestion. But is there such a thing as a suggestible personality; a type of individual that easily falls prey to suggestibility?

The term, "suggestible personality," has been historically used to describe an individual who is easily swayed by what he sees and hears around him. You probably all know at least one person that you would describe as highly suggestible. He might also be described as more emotionally unpredictable or given to bouts of histrionics when upset. Just the mere mention, in conversation, of a neighborhood robbery will be trigger enough to send this person into a moderately high state of anxiety, prompted by the irrational fear that someone is going to burglarize his home, as well. Sometimes he may even exhibit symptoms of hypochondria because after hearing about an outbreak of the flu virus, he is almost certain that he now has a fever.

Although studies have been conducted in an attempt to classify the highly suggestible person as a personality type, their outcomes have yet to be substantive enough to show a definite correlation between the trait and the state. Nor is there statistical evidence to support environment as a key factor in the development of suggestibility.

Research seems to support the idea that extrovert personalities may be more highly suggestible than introverts, especially in the female population. Studies conducted at Giessen University and at the Institute of Psychology in Prague, have demonstrated a possible standardized measure of suggestibility using the sensation of warmth. In their studies, Gheorghiu, Polczyk, and Kappeller have conducted trials in which respondents were told that they were experiencing the sensation of applied warmth, when in fact, it was only being suggested. The outcomes of a significant number of the trials demonstrated that the suggestion of applied warmth was enough for each individual to believe that he was actually feeling its presence.

In the field of human psychology, the notion of a suggestible personality type, together with early trials, may provide the basis for further research. In time, psychologists may have a better understanding of why certain types of individuals seem to have a propensity toward succumbing to the powers of suggestion.

Although the claim that a real suggestible personality type exists is not substantiated by a significant body of research at this time, subjective observations of human behavior raise some interesting questions for future study.

1. What are the primary causal factors in the suggestibility of some children, over others?

2. Is there a potential link between the suggestibility factor of an individual and his being a successful candidate for hypnosis?

3. Are obsessive compulsive personalities more prone to the suggestibility factor? If so, why?

4. Does a potential suggestibility factor in an individual who has been sexually molested or physically abused as a child have an impact on "false memories?"

5. If certain personality types are more suggestible than others, what are the implications for outcomes in therapy?

6. Are child testimonies in cases of abuse and/or molestation more subject to err due to potential suggestibility on the part of the child?

If Human Psychology can unlock the mystery of what makes one individual more highly suggestible than another, then perhaps the answer to this behavioral anomaly may help us address these questions and others like them that seek to find the link between personality and suggestibility.


Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 25(4), Aug 1941, 458-468.ion

Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 34, Issue 2. February 2003, Pages 219-231.6

More about this author: Dr. Deborah Bauers

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