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A subliminal message is a signal or message embedded in another medium, designed to pass below the normal limits of the human mind's perception. These messages are unrecognizable by the conscious mind, but in certain situations can affect the subconscious mind and can negatively or positively influence subsequent later thoughts, behaviors, actions, attitudes, belief systems and value systems. The term subliminal means "beneath a limen" (sensory threshold). This is from the Latin words sub, meaning under, and limen, meaning threshold.

Origin

E. W. Scripture published The New Psychology in 1898, which described the basic principles of subliminal messages

In 1900, Knight Dunlap, an American professor of psychology, flashed an "imperceptible shadow" to subjects while showing them a Müller-Lyer illusion containing two lines with pointed arrows at both ends which create an illusion of different lengths. Dunlap claimed that the shadow influenced his subjects subliminally in their judgment of the lengths of the lines.

Although these results were not verified in a scientific study, American psychologist Harry Levi Hollingworth reported in an advertising textbook that such subliminal messages could be used by advertisers.[1]


Further developments

During World War II, the tachistoscope, an instrument which projects pictures for an extremely brief period, was used to train soldiers to recognize enemy airplanes.[2] Today the tachistoscope is used to increase reading speed or to test sight.[3]

In 1957, market researcher James Vicary claimed that quickly flashing messages on a movie screen, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, had influenced people to purchase more food and drinks. Vicary coined the term subliminal advertising and formed the Subliminal Projection Company based on a six-week test. Vicary claimed that during the presentation of the movie Picnic he used a tachistoscope to project the words "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Hungry? Eat popcorn" for 1/3000 of a second at five-second intervals. Vicary asserted that during the test, sales of popcorn and Coke in that New Jersey theater increased 57.8 percent and 18.1 percent respectively.[2][4]

It was later revealed, however, that Vicary lied about the experiment. He admitted to falsifying the results, and an identical experiment conducted by Dr. Henry Link showed no increase in cola or popcorn sales. This has led people to believe that Vicary actually did not conduct his experiment at all.[5]

Vicary's claims were promoted in Vance Packard's book The Hidden Persuaders,[6] and led to a public outcry, and to many conspiracy theories of governments and cults using the technique to their advantage. Subliminal messages in movies and media. URL accessed on 2008-05-21.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The practice of subliminal advertising was subsequently banned in the United Kingdom and Australia,[1] and by American networks and the National Association of Broadcasters in 1958.[4]

But in 1958, Vicary conducted a television test in which he flashed the message "telephone now" hundreds of times during a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program, and found no increase in telephone calls. In 1962, Vicary admitted that he fabricated his claim, the story itself being a marketing ploy.[7] Efforts to replicate the results of Vicary's reports have never resulted in success.[2]

In 1973, commercials in the United States and Canada for the game Hūsker Dū? flashed the message "Get it".[6] During the same year, Wilson Bryan Key's book Subliminal Seduction claimed that subliminal techniques were widely used in advertising.[4] Public concern was sufficient to cause the FCC to hold hearings in 1974. The hearings resulted in an FCC policy statement stating that subliminal advertising was "contrary to the public interest" and "intended to be deceptive".[4] Subliminal advertising was also banned in Canada following the broadcasting of Hūsker Dū? ads there.[2]

A study conducted by the United Nations concluded that "the cultural implications of subliminal indoctrination is a major threat to human rights throughout the world."[8]

In 1985, Dr. Joe Stuessy testified to the United States Senate at the Parents Music Resource Center hearings that:

The message [of a piece of heavy metal music] may also be covert or subliminal. Sometimes subaudible tracks are mixed in underneath other, louder tracks. These are heard by the subconscious but not the conscious mind. Sometimes the messages are audible but are backwards, called backmasking. There is disagreement among experts regarding the effectiveness of subliminals. We need more research on that.[9]
Stuessy's written testimony stated that:
Some messages are presented to the listener backwards. While listening to a normal forward message (often somewhat nonsensical), one is simultaneously being treated to a back-wards message (in other words, the lyric sounds like one set of words going forward, and a different set of words going backwards). Some experts believe that while the conscious mind is absorbing the forward lyric, the subconscious is working overtime to decipher the backwards message.[10]

This testimony may have been based on an incorrect understanding of backward masking, however.

Later findings discover that not everyone will benefit from such messages, in fact it has been reported to have certain adverse effects.

Effectiveness

Visual

Used in advertising to create familiarity with new products, subliminal messages make familiarity into a preference for the new products. Dr. Johan Karremans suggests that subliminal messages have an effect when the messages are goal-relevant.[11] Karremans did a study assessing whether subliminal priming of a brand name of a drink would affect a person’s choice of drink, and whether this effect is caused by the individual’s feelings of being thirsty.

His study sought to ascertain whether or not subliminally priming or preparing the participant with text or an image without being aware of it would make the partaker more familiar with the product. Half of his participants were subliminally primed with Lipton Ice ("Lipton Ice" was repeatedly flashed on a computer screen for 24 milliseconds), while the other half was primed with a control that did not consist of a brand. In his study he found that subliminally priming a brand name of a drink (Lipton Ice) made those who were thirsty want the Lipton Ice. Those who were not thirsty, however, were not influenced by the subliminal message since their goal was not to quench their thirst.[12]

Subconscious stimulus by single words is well known to be modestly effective in changing human behavior or emotions. This is evident by a pictorial advertisement that portrays four different types of rum. The phrase "U Buy" was embedded somewhere, backwards in the picture. A study (Key, 1973)[13] was done to test the effectiveness of the alcohol ad. Before the study, participants were able to try to identify any hidden message in the ad, none found any. In the end, the study showed 80% of the subjects unconsciously perceived the backward message, meaning they showed a preference for that particular rum. Though many things can be perceived from subliminal messages, only a couple words or a single image of unconscious signals can be internalized. As only a word or image can be effectively perceived, the simpler features of that image or word will cause a change in behavior (i.e., beef is related to hunger). This was demonstrated by Byrne in 1959. The word "beef" was flashed for several, five millisecond intervals during a sixteen-minute movie to experimental subjects, while nothing was flashed to controlled subjects. Neither the experimental nor controlled subjects reported for a higher preference for beef sandwiches when given a list of five different foods, but the experimental subjects did rate themselves as hungrier than the controlled subjects when given a survey [14] If the subjects were flashed a whole sentence, the words would not be perceived and no effect would be expected.

In 2007, to mark the 50th anniversary of James Vicary's original experiment, it was recreated at the International Brand Marketing Conference MARKA 2007[15]. As part of the "Hypnosis, subconscious triggers and branding" presentation 1,400 delegates watched part the opening credits of the film PICNIC that was used in the original experiment. They were exposed to 30 subliminal cuts over a 90 second period. When asked to choose one of two brands 81% of the delegates picked the brand suggested by the subliminal cuts.

Studies in 2004 and 2006 showed that subliminal exposure to images of frightened faces or faces of people from another race will increase the activity of the amygdala in the brain and also increase skin conductance.[16] [17]

In 2007, it was shown that subliminal exposure to the Israeli flag had a moderating effect on the political opinions and voting behaviors of Israeli volunteers. This effect was not present when a jumbled picture of the flag was subliminally shown.[18]

Audio

Sox Satanic Subliminals

The manpage for the popular sound program SoX pokes fun at subliminal messages. The description of the "reverse" option says "Included for finding satanic subliminals."

Backmasking, an audio technique in which sounds are recorded backwards onto a track that is meant to be played forwards, produces messages that sound like gibberish to the conscious mind. Gary Greenwald, a fundamentalist Christian preacher, claims that these messages can be heard subliminally, and can induce listeners towards, in the case of rock music, sex and drug use.[19] However, this is not generally accepted as fact.[20]

Following the 1950s subliminal message panic, many businesses have sprung up purporting to offer helpful subliminal audio tapes that supposedly improve the health of the listener. However, there is no evidence for the therapeutic effectiveness of such tapes.[21]

Campaigners have suggested subliminal messages appear in music. In 1985, two young men - James Vance and Raymond Belknap, had attempted suicide. At the time of the shootings, Belknap died instantly. Vance was severely injured and survived. Their families were convinced it was because of a British rock band, Judas Priest. The families claimed subliminal messages told listeners to "do it" in the song "Better by You, Better Than Me". The case was taken to court and the families sought more than US$6 million in damages. The judge, Jerry Carr Whitehead said that freedom of speech protections would not apply to subliminal messages. He said he was not convinced the hidden messages actually existed on the album, but left the argument to attorneys[22]. The suit was eventually dismissed. In turn, he ruled it probably would not have been perceived without the "power of suggestion" or the young men would not have done it unless they really intended to. [23]

Another well known incident with subliminal message happened a few months after Judas Priest's acquittal, Michael Waller, the son of a Georgia minister, shot himself in the head while listening to Ozzy Osbourne's record Suicide Solution. His parents claimed that subliminal messages may have influenced his actions. The judge in that trial granted the summary judgment because the plaintiffs could not show that there was any subliminal material on the record. He noted, however, that if the plaintiffs had shown that subliminal content was present, the messages would not have received protection under the First Amendment because subliminal messages are, in principle, false, misleading or extremely limited in their social value (Waller v. Osbourne 1991). Justice Whitehead's ruling in the Judas Priest trial was cited to support his position[24].

Subliminal messages can affect a human's emotional state and/or behaviors. They are most effective when perceived unconsciously. The most extensive study of therapeutic effects from audiotapes was conducted to see if the self-esteem audiotapes would raise self-esteem. 237 volunteers were provided with tapes of three manufacturers and completed post tests after one month of use. The study showed clearly that subliminal audiotapes made to boost self-esteem did not produce effects associated with subliminal content within one month’s use.[25]

See also


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 includeonly>Pratkanis, Anthony R.. "The Cargo-Cult Science of Subliminal Persuasion", Skeptical Inquirer, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Spring 1992, pp. 260-272. Retrieved on 2006-08-11.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named straightdope
  3. tachistoscope - Definitions from Dictionary.com
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Urban Legends Reference Pages: Business (Subliminal Advertising). The Urban Legends Reference Pages. URL accessed on 2006-08-11.
  5. Urban Legends Reference Pages: Subliminal Advertising
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lantos, Geoffrey P. The Absolute Threshold Level and Subliminal Messages. (PDF) Stonehill College. URL accessed on 2007-03-01.
  7. Boese, Alex (2002). The Museum of Hoaxes: A Collection of Pranks, Stunts, Deceptions, and Other Wonderful Stories Contrived for the Public from the Middle Ages to the New Millennium, E. P. Dutton, ISBN 0-525-94678-0. pages. 137-38.
  8. Hammarskjol, Dag (1974). 31st Session, 7 October 1974, E/Cn.4/1142/Add 2., United Nations Human Rights Commission.
  9. U.S. Senate, page 118.
  10. U.S. Senate, page 125.
  11. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2006
  12. Karremans, J. (2006). Beyond vicary’s fantasies: the impact of subliminal priming and brand choice [Electronic Version]. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 792-798
  13. Key, W. B. (1973). Subliminal seduction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  14. Byrne, D. (1959). "The effect of a subliminal food stimulus on verbal responses." Journal of Applied Psychology. 43 (no.4), 249-251.
  15. Marka conference.com
  16. Williams, Leanne M., Belinda J. Liddell, Andrew H. Kemp, Richard A. Bryant, Russell A. Meares, Anthony S. Peduto, Evian Gordon (2006). Amygdala-prefrontal dissociation of subliminal and supraliminal fear. Human Brain Mapping 27 (8): 652–661.
  17. Brain Activity Reflects Complexity Of Responses To Other-race Faces, Science Daily, 14 December 2004
  18. Hassin, Ferguson, Shidlovski, Gross (2007). Subliminal exposure to national flags affects political thought and behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol. 104, no. 50
  19. Vokey, John R. (2002). "Subliminal Messages" Psychological Sketches (PDF), 6th edition, 223–246, Lethbridge, Alberta: Psyence Ink. URL accessed 2006-07-05.
  20. Robinson, B.A. Backmasking on records: Real, or hoax?. URL accessed on 2006-07-04.
  21. includeonly>Moore, Timothy E.. "Subliminal Perception: Facts and Fallacies", Skeptical Inquirer, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Spring 1992, pp. 273-81. Retrieved on 2006-08-11.
  22. http://www.totse.com/en/ego/can_you_dance_to_it/jud-prst.html
  23. Vance, J., et al. v. Judas Priest et al., No. 86-5844, 2nd Dist. Ct. Nev. (August, 24 1990)
  24. http://www.csicop.org/si/9611/judas_priest.html
  25. Eskenazi, J., & Greenwald, A.G., Pratkanis, A.R. (1990). What you expect is what you believe (but not necessarily what you get): On the ineffectiveness of subliminal self-help audiotapes. Unpublished manuscript. University of California. Santa Cruz.

Further reading

Books

  • Dixon, N. F. (1971). Subliminal Perception: The nature of a controversy, McGraw-Hill, New York.


Papers

  • Greeenwald, Anthony W. (1992). New Look 3: Unconscious Cognition Reclaimed, American Psychologist, 47.
  • Holender, D. (1986). Semantic activation without conscious identification in dichotic listening, parafoveal vision, and visual masking: A survey and appraisal. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9, 1-23.
  • Merikle, P. M., and M. Daneman (1998). Psychological Investigations of Unconscious Perception, Journal of Consciousness Studies.
  • Watanabe, Sasaki, Nanez (2001). Perceptual learning without perception. Nature, 413, 844-848.
  • Seitz and Watanabe (2003). Is subliminal learning really passive. Nature, 422, 36.



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