Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Power of Suggestion

You’re probably wondering why I’d write about this, but honestly the power of suggestion is probably the #1 reason people both believe in the paranormal and don’t believe in the paranormal.

Do you remember an episode of “Phil Donohue” show where someone fainted in the audience? Then another fainted? Then another? Finally, they cut away to a commercial and came back to an empty room. They feared something made everyone sick so they sent the audience home. It was actually an experiment with actors mocking a couple of faints. After that, the regular audience got caught up in it.

Humans really are a flock of sheep.

On ghost hunts, I’ve seen a lot of folks getting worked up in a group. One gets spooked, the others quiver. If you’re a leader, you question the mentality. If you’re a follower, you look to the “leaders” to decide if you should be scared, run, or beat the hell out of someone. Ever hear of a pack of humans beat an innocent person only to later say they don’t know why they joined in, they knew it was wrong? Well, someone started the first punch and that person established himself as the leader and the others, followers.

The very fact that we can be suggestible gives skeptics an excuse for why there is no such thing as the paranormal. It’s just mass hysteria in the right setting, misunderstood cues and body sensations, sounds in a dark place. If more than one person senses something, they assume there’s copycatting going on within the group. These skeptics tend to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because humans reported these occurrences, skeptics assume they are flawed interpretations.

So, how do we go into a situation of a ghost hunt and not get caught up in the power of suggestion? That’s a hard task to ask many people. Once one person sees or hears or feels something, the others are anxiously awaiting the same encounter.

And, if you believe it, you will see it.

Are you a sheep or a leader? The sheep does as told, doesn’t ask questions. The leader stops and uses logic to say “that makes no sense, I’m not going to do that.” The sheep will accept a psychic’s reading and use it to make decisions. The leader will find the advisement interesting but will still make a decision based on his own decision-making techniques. A sheep asks for advice frequently and follows it often. A leader does not ask for advice and very rarely follows unsolicited advice unless it was something he already decided upon.

I personally don’t think of myself as a sheep. I’m a leader by nature. I also don’t care what the crowd is up to. I have my own self-directed path. This helps me a lot to not be suggestible. The inner skeptic jumps up immediately and says “well, there must be an explanation for what that person is feeling” and I concentrate on that person and his sensations. Others are likely to direct it to themselves. They see a guy getting goosebumps and they turn inward and say to themselves “do I feel cold?

Sheep tend to project what’s happening to their leader onto themselves, desperately trying to be “like” their leader or be “liked” by their leader (either or both motivations).

You can’t know if people on your team are sheep or leaders, suggestible or skeptical. The ideal situation is to have team members bring paper and pen. No one speaks the entire time except for EVP sessions. No observations. Just note the time and location and what you experienced and compare notes later. That’s a dream scenario, but I know few ghost hunters willing to do a silent study but it certainly helps to keep the power of suggestion as low as it can be in a group setting.

Once someone in a group begins to talk excitedly about what they encountered, it’s very likely to set off a whole lot more people saying the same thing is happening to them. The waters have been muddied and you’re screwed. I tend to keep the things I see, hear, smell, and feel to myself. I wait to hear what others have observed and where they observed it. Then, I mentally note to myself that what I experienced was verified. Sometimes, the group wants to hang out afterwards and discuss what happened, but then you get into a debate supporting each other’s findings, “Oh yes! I felt that in the closet too,” “You’re right, there was a shadow in that corner.” To become part of the “flock,” people will support whatever the people they consider to be the leaders say.

It’s unavoidable in human groups not to have your sheep and your leaders. You can’t stop the natural socializing tendency to agree with those you see as higher’s up, but as a ghost hunter you can keep your observations to yourself, take notes, and then let the rest chat it out while you verify your own experience through their tales. If you aren’t a suggestible person, you’ll get very independent verification of what you suspected you encountered.

So, do you tend to be a sheep or a leader? It might make the difference in your efficacy in the ghost hunting world.


  1. You have a very valid point. I am very lucky to have a team that is comprised of folks who are grounded and comfortable enough to not get caught up in this type of hysterical circumstance. We are able to communicate what we are experiencing without worrying that everyone else present will get caught up in the power of suggestion.

    Anyone that is skeptical or has no natural abilities or sensitivities thinks you are full of it when you describe experiences and they discount everything you say anyway.

    I get aggravated with some of these shows that have one person start screaming and running and then everybody else does the same thing. Give me a break! If you are that scared or prone to suggestion then you should not be in this business.

    Climbing down from the ol' soapbox now..........LOL

    BTW, I would classify myself as a leader. Bet you could not tell, huh? LOL

  2. Hey Rowan;
    Yeah, leaders recognize it and respect it in others. It's always nice when you're a leader to know you can count on other leaders and don't have to babysit. I generally hunt with my best buddy--we have a certain "ghost magnet" quality in which weird stuff presents itself quite readily to us and she's as logic-minded as I am, so we both don't feed off each other. I admit there's really nothing in the ghost hunting world that scares me in the least. I love dark places, being totally alone, trying to bring things forth. It's my favorite way of being, but I used to wander the halls of my scary old house and dig up bones and relics in the crawlspace as a small child, so to me it's like a wonderland of possibilities. I'm very child-like if you haven't noticed. :-) I have done some hunts in groups around here and there's quite a mixed bag of nuts out there. The ones that are scared of plunging into attics and digging around abandoned sites just amaze me. Ones that get all twittery when the lights go out...What's with that? Well, I just do my own thing and my psychic instincts are what gets me to the right place at the right time and knowing the right tone to use when on a hunt to attract and not repel. I don't use my abilities to read things by touching them as proof of hauntings, but I do use it like a bloodhound, to know just where the action is.

  3. Best Donahue episode ever?? I think so.

  4. Hey Carl;
    It did have me cracking up! I remember watching it live while it was happening and going, "wait a minute, this doesn't make sense medically..."

  5. That was an amazingly interesting article. I like the connections you made to ghost hunting and skeptics. Very cool.

  6. onipar...thanks. I talk about these things from time to time on my blog. People don't realize how subjective the gathering of data is in the first place and how we have to hold ourselves accountable too as receivers and interpreters of phenomenon.

  7. There was a paranormal show on recently where they used the power of suggestion on two groups of people while ghost hunting. One group they told them of the history and haunts and the other group wasn't told anything. The group that was unaware of the haunted history tended to be less scared and jumpy. The other group reported seeing and hearing more activity. It is amazing how that works.

  8. Julie;
    Yup. I have to admit, as a psychic, I prefer to go in knowing nothing about where I'm going or its history because even psychics are suggestible.

  9. "Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Walk beside me that we may be as one." -Ute

  10. The blind leading the blind. Hey Jeff, nice quote. I readily admit that put into a group of people given a task, if no one seems to be able to decide what we should do, I take over. There's nothing worse than a bunch of aimless folks unable to complete a task because they're looking for instructions.

  11. Yeah, people in general definitely are sheep. I think back to those Biblical analogies of men being like sheep...such an accurate analogy! A lot of people just feel comfortable following another. Me...I don't really care to be the leader, but I usually don't feel like a follower either. I guess that's why I like the quote I posted's one of my favorite quotes.

  12. Jeff;
    Yeah, I figured you had your own path. That's a good quality to not have to follow the crowd, but not want to define the crowd either. I just hate to people running around in confusion and not getting anywhere. I have repeat dreams all the time of end-of-world scenarios. I'm calm and just fine with the new reality, but everyone else can't even think to get shelter, food and water. I have to delegate and handle it while they're all acting crazy. I think that's the story of my life. I once said I wanted to write my autobiography but no one would believe what happened during my lifetime. I'd call it "Watching a Train Wreck" because my life has been about observing others I love around me creating huge drama and issues. I learned from being around people with deep emotional problems and addictions and such that I can't control their problems. I go back to the Serenity Prayer my father had hanging in our house when I was growing up. I just look in life for the things I can control and let the rest go. I guess I have a more universal picture of the world and less myopic. It really helps to be spiritual, I think. Sounds like you're of the same type.