Is there the power of positive thinking? In principle, there is no proof of it, however much some self-help books and advice magazines encourage us to raise our best “good vibes” to the cosmos.

A person who believes he or she can achieve this or that goal is more likely to do so than one who does not trust his or her own resources. This is absolutely true, but it has nothing to do with the “good vibe” .

Perseverance matters more than positive thinking

The key action mechanism is perseverance . Someone with a moderate or high degree of confidence in his or her own skills and management capacity will not be so easily discouraged by problems that arise along the way, and will be well-disposed to redouble his or her efforts in the face of adversity.

On the contrary, those who do not have a good concept of themselves will easily become discouraged and abandon the crusade at the slightest failure.

The role of expectations

The same goes for the expectations we place on a product.

Numerous studies have shown that when people take a so-called painkiller that they have been told is one of the most expensive on the market, they feel much greater relief from an ailment than when they are told that the painkiller is generic or just another cheap drug from the many that can be bought in a pharmacy.

The trick, in both cases, is to give people a neutral pill with no real property to fight pain: a placebo.The problem with these experiments is that they lack a certain scientific rigor, since measuring pain objectively is not easy and entails some operational drawbacks.

Let’s see, participants are asked, after they take the tablet, to give a score to the pain they are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 equals unbearable pain, and 1 equals no pain.

The inherent flaw of such a procedure is the impossibility of measuring with reliable parameters the perception of the different levels of pain the person is experiencing.

In other words, it is not possible to check whether someone’s pain score is real. It should not be forgotten that what the person “believes” he is feeling depends on a few factors closely linked to his subjectivity.

However, another series of experiments revealed the power of expectations on some intellectual capacities.

The Drinking and Suggestion Experiment

A group of people were recruited to solve a mind game. From a series of unordered letters, they had to deduce the correct word at a given moment .

This served to set a baseline, that is, to know the average number of words that could be arrived at in a neutral condition. For example, when presented with the letters “rcberoe” they had to construct the word “brain”. The final result was established in 9 real words out of a total of 15 words with the disordered letters.

In the second condition of the experiment, the participants were given a caffeine-based energy drink beforehand.

They were also conveniently informed that such drinks had the property of enhancing mental activity, and after a few minutes of waiting for the brew to supposedly take effect, they were given the task of rearranging the words.

What happened?

On average, the participants who drank the energy drink also solved 9 words , i.e. the same amount that had previously been solved by the experimental subjects of the neutral condition.

It seemed that the generic expectation of an improvement in mental activity was not powerful enough to generate a real impact on the intellectual capacities of the participants. But the surprising thing happened later.

In a third condition of the experiment, written information was added that extolled the supposed beneficial properties of the drink. Specifically, participants were given a series of pamphlets explaining that the energy drink they were about to consume had been scientifically proven to significantly increase the speed of brain information processing.

This finding, which translated into faster mind games, had been confirmed by scientists after more than a dozen studies. What was the result? This time, the participants became really “smarter” and solved on average about 12 words , that is about 3 words more than the control group.

All the false scientific information that they had previously read, and that assured that the energy drink possessed incredible properties to enhance intellectual capacity, had generated a set of expectations of such magnitude, that predisposed people to give a greater cognitive effort, with real and tangible results. They had been suggested.

Another sample of expectation-based suggestion

In another interesting experiment, a group of people were individually shown a photograph of an individual with a neutral expression on his face, and asked what impression this person made on them.

The answers obtained were in accordance with the previous beliefs of the participants . Half of the group had previously been told that the man in the photograph was a Nazi doctor who had presided over atrocious experiments in a concentration camp during World War II.

The other half of the group was told that, on the contrary, he was a resistance leader who had fought fiercely against fascism, and that his courage had saved dozens of Jews from certain death.

Thus, faced with the same image, the people in the first group felt that this man was ruthless, that cruelty was transparent in his face and could hardly suppress a grimace of disdain and irony.

The people in the second group, on the other hand, claimed to have a friendly, warm and trustworthy face . In line with this, the power of expectations to colour or modify the perceptual experience has also been demonstrated in a series of ingenious experiments.

Image-based wine tasting

In another investigation, expert tasters praised the goodness of a seven dollar wine, when they were previously informed that the bottle cost seventy dollars, and the drink was served in delicate crystal glasses.

You should know that if you are a restaurant owner, you should take great care in the presentation of your meals, since they are as or more important than the preparation of the dish itself.

The power of anticipation

Everything seems to indicate that when we anticipate that something will be good, it is quite likely that it will turn out to be good.

For example, we are able to drink a whole glass of beer mixed with vinegar and taste it without prejudice if the person who invites us simply omits the detail of the adulteration. On the other hand, if he tells us exactly what we are about to drink, as soon as we take a sip, we will pucker up and look disgusted.

That is, if we anticipate that something will taste bad, we actually perceive the bad taste , thanks to the previous expectations we have generated.

Similarly, if we have to assess how much we like the coffee served in a certain cafe, we will find it much more tasty and we will be well disposed to give it a high rating if everything around the coffee, including the dishes and table linen of the place, seems to be of first quality.

If we then have the opportunity to try the same coffee, but are told that it is another brand, and it is served to us in a plastic cup, this time it will seem mediocre or directly bad. Once again, our expectations will have a powerful influence on the perception of taste.

It’s not enough for the brain that a product is really the best on the market, or that a person is an outstanding professional in their discipline… it also has to look like one. The previous knowledge we have about something, our beliefs, the prejudices and stereotypes derived from the culture, are all factors that affect the way we see the world.