Health Fusion: That time my sister set Thanksgiving on fire (and other examples of the power of suggestion)

Whatever you do, don't think about the aroma of a roasting turkey or the bright tang of bite a of cranberry sauce. I bet, in your head, you just smelled and tasted those Thanksgiving favorites, right? Thus is the power of suggestion. In this "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams explores the power of suggestion's ability to change behavior and even heal. And she explains how it resulted in broken china, laughter and a Thanksgiving table that caught on fire.

Health Fusion: That time my sister set Thanksgiving on fire (and other examples of the power of suggestion)
Thanksgiving display
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Some of the details are a little foggy, but memories of two childhood Thanksgiving mishaps roll to the forefront of my mind every year. Both make me chuckle and I have to remember to ask my two sisters about them to see how closely our memories jive. I was pretty little for the first one, but it was dramatic, and it's been burned into my brain ever since — pun intended.

That year, the table was set impeccably, as entertaining was one of my mother's talents. She used the good china, silver and other table top delights that were magical to my five-year-old eyes. I found the tall taper candles to be the most spectacular. Mostly because they were forbidden.

"Don't touch the candles or you'll set the table on fire," said my mom with a wink.

Wouldn't you know it. During the meal, my sister could not help herself. She reached out, slowly, with her apple cheeks exploding in a sly smile, and touched a candle. It toppled over and set a napkin and the tablecloth ablaze.

The power of suggestion got the best of her.


Viv Williams

Fast forward about six years to fifth grade and the second Thanksgiving mishap. It was time to set the table. I couldn't wait to touch that beautiful china, so when my mother gave the signal, I launched out of my seat to grab it out of the hutch.

"Slow down, or you'll break something," she said.

Wouldn't you know it. After denying that such a thing would ever happen, I, with a rather dramatic flourish, dropped two tea cups and a salad plate that shattered on the floor. Oops! This event and the tabletop inferno have become legends in my own mind.

I'm not saying that because the power of suggestion may have come into play, my sister and I are not to blame. We should have been able to control ourselves. But the memories sent me on a quest to find out what the research says about the power of suggestion. I found a lot of scholarly, peer-reviewed articles about the subject. It's used in many situations, including advertising, clinical psychology, hypnosis, pain control, sports, magic acts and academics. Research shows it may help explain the placebo effect — if you think a pill or treatment will help you feel better, it might do so, to a certain extent and at least for a while.

It's like the familiar saying, "if you think something will happen, it will happen."

All of the above examples of possible uses of suggestion are geared toward getting people to change their thoughts and/or behaviors, which can be good or bad. If you use the power of suggestion to visualize success or overcome an obstacle, that's great. But if you use it to mislead, that's not so great. A blog from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, breaks down a research article in the journal Emotion about false memories and what prompts them. The takeaway, for me, is that suggestions have the ability to influence our memories — especially when they are emotional — which could have implications when it comes to witness testimony in court cases or other situations.


Admittedly, I'm only at the very start of an exploration of the science (and also the mystique) behind the power of suggestion. There are many uses and avenues of research that I don't even know exist yet. So you can be certain that I'll be including some of what I learn in my upcoming video blogs and podcasts.

I am particularly interested in the power of suggestion because it has the potential to help people make positive changes in their lives, physically and mentally.

If you have any stories to share about how the power of suggestion impacted your life, please get in touch!

Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at

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