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Suggestibility is a personality trait that expresses the degree of sensitivity to suggestions .


People differ in terms of their suggestibility, that is, the adoption of induced thoughts, feelings, perceptions or ideas at the expense of the relationship to reality. The suggestion can be made by strangers as well as by the person himself ( autosuggestion ). In children, the suggestibility is still very high, but decreases in the course of life. Because of their high suggestibility, younger people are particularly targeted at being influenced by propaganda or advertising . In the case of fatigue, physical weakness and under hypnosis , the suggestibility is increased, but this is also a prerequisite for getting into a hypnotic trance at all . Very suggestible people are often described as "naive" or "gullible".

Suggestibility plays a role in medicine in connection with placebo research. It is also a term used in mass psychology . People with certain personality disorders are extremely suggestible, for example the Histrionic personality . The abnormal suggestibility is shown in an entertaining way in the US feature film Zelig .

Suggestibility of children

The change in awareness in society in the 1980s regarding the issue of "sexual abuse in children" led to changes in the legal system in the USA as well as in the western world. In most cases there are no other witnesses besides the child and the perpetrator, so it is very relevant whether or from what age and under what conditions children are able to give reliable testimony. In 1999, Maggie Bruck and Stephen J. Ceci published a review article on research into the memory and suggestibility of children.

Early studies (before 1980) showed that children are more easily influenced than adults by misleading questions and that the influence on younger children is greater than that of older children. These studies criticized the fact that the laboratory situations used did not reflect the personal concern of a child as in a current case. This led to the development of new paradigms for investigating the suggestibility of children in the 1990s, which should meet the following criteria:

  1. Participation of preschool children in examinations
  2. Using situations in which children are personally affected and body sensation is associated with a stressful atmosphere
  3. The concept of suggestive techniques is used in an expanded form, e.g. B. a time delay between the event and the interview, the repetition of questions and wrong information or more subtle influences about atmosphere, reinforcement, pressure.

The results of such studies show that misleading information has less of an influence on the correctness of the children's answers than previously thought. However, a study from 1995 showed that this only applies to one-off attempts at suggestion. In connection with a vaccination at a pediatrician and subsequent interviews, the effect of several suggestive techniques was combined. One year after the doctor's visit, the suggestion was woven into a conversation or play with 6-year-old children in repeated form on three visits. This should approximate the experiment as closely as possible to interviews such as therapists, lawyers, parents they conducted in an actual case. In these interviews, the children were either told that they were very brave or a neutral story was told. Children who were given feedback on how brave they were a year ago and that they had not cried remembered significantly less pain and crying than children given neutral feedback. Incorporating incorrect information about the activities of the pediatrician as well as the assistant caused children in this condition to give more incorrect answers about these suggested activities than other children, with a large proportion of children (44%) claiming that the injection was given by was given to the assistant when the doctor actually gave the injection. The fact that events were approved that never happened and for which there was no false information is evidence that the ability of children to be influenced cannot be explained solely with the theory of social consent. The best explanation for this result is that children develop a script that matches the suggestive information. This is how children fill a memory gap that is consistent with the suggestion.

Younger children are not always more prone to suggestive influence than older ones. Younger children can sometimes remember events or information better because their ability to categorize the world and draw conclusions is less pronounced, which means that memories are less falsified by expectations. When presented with a word list of semantically related words to children and adults, adults are more likely to have false memories than children. It was also shown that children who were instructed to forget the first list of words and to concentrate on the new one were able to forget more words from the first list. This effect could not be found in adults. Studies also suggest that adults are more likely to be influenced by misinformation. In a 2014 study by Royer, subjects were shown a video recording of a crime. The subjects were then shown four photos that were used to identify the perpetrator. None of the photos showed the real culprit. Afterwards, the test subjects were shown two photos in random order: the photo of the real perpetrator or the picture they chose in the previous run. Adults were more likely to stick with their choices than children. A connection between demographic data (with the exception of age) and the suggestibility of children could not be established. It is not yet fully understood whether cognitive abilities that go beyond the normal influence suggestibility. The same applies to the capacity and performance of memory. Decreased intelligence or intellectual disabilities can greatly affect suggestibility, especially when closed and misleading questions are asked. Children with intellectual disabilities are generally more prone to failure. On open, misleading questions, normally developed children did just as badly as mentally retarded children. In addition, children can tend to confuse suggested information with what they have experienced if they are distracted, as this can result in poorer information processing. In addition, children who are more creative and more imaginative are more prone to misleading questions, misinformation, and the production of false memories.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ M. Bruck, SJ Ceci: The suggestibility of children's memory. In: Annual review of psychology. Volume 50, 1999, pp. 419-439, ISSN  0066-4308 . doi : 10.1146 / annurev.psych.50.1.419 . PMID 10074684 . (Review).
  2. M. Bruck, SJ Ceci u. a .: "I hardly cried when I got my shot!" Influencing children's reports about a visit to their pediatrician. In: Child development. Volume 66, Number 1, February 1995, pp. 193-208, ISSN  0009-3920 . PMID 7497825 .
  3. a b c d e f g h i Amelia Courtney Hritz, Caisa Elizabeth Royer, Rebecca K. Helm, Kayla A. Burd, Karen Ojeda, Stephen J. Ceci: Children's suggestibility research: Things to know before interviewing a child . In: Anuario de Psicología Jurídica . 25, No. 1, 2015, ISSN  1133-0740 , pp. 3–12. doi : 10.1016 / j.apj.2014.09.002 .
  4. ^ ML Howe: Children (but Not Adults) Can Inhibit False Memories . In: Psychological Science . 16, No. 12, 2005, ISSN  0956-7976 , pp. 927-931. doi : 10.1111 / j.1467-9280.2005.01638.x .