Science of suggestion & suggestibility

Seminar series

The Science of Suggestion & Suggestibility is a seminar series that aims to bring together researchers and clinicians studying the science and application of suggestion and individual differences in the capacity to respond to suggestion. We welcome attendees from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and we aim to provide a forum for critical, but friendly, discussion of the characteristics and mechanisms of suggestion.

For the time being, this seminar series is being run online via zoom and is hosted by Michael Heap, Ben Parris, and Devin Terhune.

If you’d like to join our mailing list, please email us at sos (at) Log-in details for seminars will be sent out via our mailing list, along with updates about upcoming seminars.

Upcoming seminars

Dr Eamonn Walsh

King’s College London


Title: TBA

18 October, 4 PM BST (4PM GMT+1, 4PM UTC+1, 11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

Abstract: TBA

Previous seminars

Dr Quinton Deeley

King’s College London


Belief and dissociation across hypnosis, psychopathology, and religious experience

14 June, 4 PM BST (4PM GMT+1, 4PM UTC+1, 11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

Suggested effects in hypnosis, functional neurological and dissociative symptoms, and religiously recognised states of revelation, mediumship, and possession, all involve alterations in the control, ownership, or awareness of mental contents and actions. This suggests that shared cognitive and brain processes may contribute to all of these phenomena. Yet case histories and vignettes show how these alterations in experience and behaviour also vary in important respects. Here we consider the ways in which control, ownership, and awareness of mental contents and actions can vary, and the family of cognitive and brain processes involved in them.  We discuss how (i) intense emotional investment (cathexis) in ideas and beliefs can produce profound changes in related experience even in the absence of high hypnotisability, providing insights into the genesis of functional symptoms and religious experience; and (ii) prior beliefs and experiences can radically affect responses to ambient stimuli, including suggestions in hypnosis.

Recording link

Dr Doug Hardman

Bournemouth University


Beyond belief: the role of non-doxastic attitudes in the placebo effect

17 May, 4 PM BST (4PM GMT+1, 4PM UTC+1, 11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

Conscious belief underpins many explanatory accounts of the placebo effect. However, in a novel and influential placebo treatment paradigm – open label placebo treatment – a belief-based account seems paradoxical. Given this problem, in this presentation, I explore the role of non-doxastic attitudes in the placebo effect – notably hope and pretence – and question whether the focus on belief-based accounts in placebo studies research is misguided.

Recording link

Dr Afik Faerman

Baylor College of Medicine

Website, Twitter: @AfikFaerman

Modulation of Hypnotic Responsiveness Using Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation

19 April, 4 PM BST (4PM GMT+1, 4PM UTC+1, 11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

What makes some people more responsive to hypnotic suggestions than others? Can we enhance a person’s ability to experience phenomena in hypnosis? We conducted a preregistered, triple-blinded, randomized control trial to answer these questions. We tested our hypotheses with a sample of 80 people with fibromyalgia syndrome, a functional pain disorder for which hypnosis has consistently been shown to be a beneficial nonpharmacological treatment option. Our results demonstrated that an Active continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS), a non-invasive neuromodulation approach, significantly increased hypnotic responsiveness while a sham stimulation did not. Causal inference for a neurocognitive pathway in hypnotic responsiveness and dose-response optimization are discussed.

Dr Ram Prasad Sapkota

Online Therapy Unit, Dept of Psychology, University of Regina


Characteristics and correlates of mass psychogenic illness in Nepal

15 March, 4 PM GMT (11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

Many adolescents in schools and adult women in some communities in Nepal are affected in clusters by unintentional trance or possession episodes, known as mass psychogenic illness (MPI). More than 150 such outbreaks occurred in the last twenty years. We conducted a series of qualitative and quantitative studies to examine the characteristics and correlates of MPI. The quantitative results indicated that the affected individuals had higher rates of traumatic exposure, higher symptoms of mental illness, a higher tendency to dissociative experiences, and hypnotisability than those not affected. However, qualitative data suggested that trance and/or possession episodes were more likely an avenue to cope with and communicate distress associated with existing psychosocial problems – an idiom of distress.

Recording link

Prof Amanda Barnier

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Performance) and Professor of Cognitive Science, School of Psychological Science, Macquarie University


Understanding claims of ‘mass psychosis’ in COVID times: Suggestion, delusion, misinformation and/or selective memory

15 February, 10 AM GMT (11 AM CET)

Across a 30-year research career in Psychology, I have studied hypnosis and suggestion, classic hypnotic items and the “classic suggestion effect”, hypnotisable and nonhypnotisable people, hypnotic and nonhypnotic memory, individual and collective remembering and forgetting, misinformation and false memories, and distorted beliefs and delusions. I often have been struck by how siloed our literatures can be yet the grand challenges of everyday life demand consilience across these literatures, concepts, methods, and knowledge. I begin our conversation with a question I recently was asked about “mass psychosis ” as an explanation for community sentiment around COVID vaccination. I then aim (with your help) to draw a taxonomy of suggestion, memory, belief, and reasoning in (individual and collective) COVID attitudes and behaviours. Can insights from our research and practice point a pathway to wiser cognition, both private and public?

Prof Zoltan Dienes

School of Psychology, University of Sussex


The role of phenomenological control in experience

18 January, 4 PM GMT (11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

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People have to varying degrees the capacity to alter subjective experience such that it misrepresents reality in ways consistent with goals, and such that the misrepresentation can be sustained over at least minutes despite clear contrary evidence. We call this the capacity for phenomenological control. People can use the capacity to fulfill requirements of social situations or personal needs. One prominent such situation is hypnosis. But there are others. A situation psychologists often place people in is the psychological experiment, where it is often clear to subjects what experiences are desired. These experiences can be constructed so that they seem to confirm the experimenter’s hypothesis, in the eyes of both subject and experimenter. One can measure the extent of this effect by regressing the experimental effect putatively investigated against the capacity for phenomenological control. If the effect is at least partially brought about by phenomenological control there will be a slope; if there is a residual effect not brought about by phenomenological control there will be an intercept above zero. We show that touch synesthesia, the rubber hand illusion, the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR),  the visually evoked auditory response (vEAR) may be largely products of phenomenological control; the Muller-Lyer illusion by contrast has a flat slope and a high intercept and has little to do with phenomenological control. We also show that some everyday experiences (apart from ASMR) may be largely phenomenological control, including vicarious pain and some meditative experiences.

Recording link

Prof Irving Kirsch

Associate Director, Programme in Placebo Studies & Therapeutic Encounter (PiPs), Harvard Medical School


Harnessing the Placebo Effect Without Deception

14 December, 4 PM GMT (11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

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Placebos are effective for many clinical conditions, but the assumption that deception is needed is a barrier to its use. Recent studies have shown that placebos can be effective even when presented openly and honestly as placebos.  Hypnosis can be used to produce extra-strength placebo effects without deception.  Among the suggestions that can be effective is the prescription of an imaginary pill, in or out of hypnosis.

Recording link

Prof Luana Colloca

Pain and Translational Symptom Science Department, School of Nursing, University of Maryland

Website | Twitter

Deep phenotyping of human placebo effects 

16 November, 4 PM GMT (11 AM EST, 5 PM CET)

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Prof. Colloca and her lab are among the first teams to establish the largest existing cohort of phenotypes of placebo responders and nonresponders and to discover critical basic mechanisms of placebo effects directly in patients. Prof. Colloca will show the newest results indicating that placebo effects in chronic pain do not extinguish over time, depend on prior therapeutic experiences and are predicted by learning patterns, genetic and psychosocial determinants. These new findings illustrating in-depth placebo phenotypes, will be integrated with a description of a theoretical model of pain modulation, pioneering mechanisms of placebo hypoalgesia and the role of sex, race/ethnicity influences among others.