Suggestive refers to our brain’s tendency to misremember the source of memories. In other words, our memories are vulnerable to the power of suggestion.
When we learn something about an occurrence after the fact, even though we didn't actually experience that new information, it becomes incorporated into the memory.
Little is known about how suggestibility works in the brain, but it fools our minds into thinking it’s a real memory.
So to make sure a memory is real, we have to pay attention to the source. For example, an eyewitness in a court hearing is asked to describe what he or she actually saw or heard, not what he or she thought about the event or heard on the news. A leading question by an attorney can plant suggestive notions in the eyewitness’s mind, such as, “the defendant was wearing a blue suit, right?” Suddenly, the eyewitness remembers that the defendant was wearing a blue suit. This acceptance of false suggestions made by another is the power of suggestion.
In a 2002 study published by Wiley InterScience for Applied Cognitive Psychology, the authors found that there is considerable evidence that there are often age-related deficits in source monitoring.
For example, older adults have trouble remembering what was said by two speakers, finding which of two lists a word appeared on, or whether they read something or came up with it on their own.
Research is ongoing with regards to identifying some of the conditions that make sourcing especially difficult for older adults. Sometimes older people have difficulty recognizing cues of where information came from.
Suggestibility is a difficult circumstance because the memories we pull from outside sources seem as truly real as our own. And, suggestibility can be risky for older adults in that they could be vulnerable to fraud and manipulation by others. Fraudulent telemarketers can tell someone his or her bank accounts are being closed unless the person forks over their personal, identifiable information.
Using simple, open-ended questions and avoiding expressions of disappointment or disapproval can help reduce suggestibility. It is also helpful to avoid asking an individual to take time and try to remember, which can apply undue pressure and lead him or her to recall things that never actually happened.