How Do Subliminal Messages Work?
Subliminal messages or ‘subliminal stimuli’ are well known in popular culture for its power to influence people or evoke an emotional response without an individual being aware or conscious of the stimulus. Today we’re going to explore what subliminal messages are and if they really work.
What Are Subliminal Messages?
Subliminal messages (or subliminal stimuli) are sensory related stimuli below a persons level of conscious perception. The two most prominent types used are visual stimuli and audio stimuli. Visual based subliminal messages are images which are quickly flashed before the brain has time to process them, or are flashed and masked, which also interrupts processing by the brain. Audio subliminal stimuli may be played below audible volumes, or similarly masked by other sounds and noises, or recorded backwards in a process called backmasking.
First described and published in 1897 by E.W. Scripture, ‘subliminal messages’ didn’t really become controversial until 1957 when adverting companies and marketers began to laud its potential use in persuasion to attract business clients. They claimed that this new form of advertising could manipulate potential customers into purchasing their products by subconsciously triggering a response, action or feeling.
Does It Work?
It hasn’t been proven that subliminal messages work to any significant degree. While they have been able to demonstrate they can prime an individual’s responses and stimulate mild emotional activity on certain people, the consensus among scientists and psychologists is that subliminal messages do not produce a strong, enduring effect on a persons behavior; and that experiments reveal little effect beyond a subtle, fleeting effect on a persons thinking.
Uses In Modern Culture?
A more recent form of ‘subliminal stimuli’ is the practice of hiding things in plain sight, like product placement in films and TV shows. An example of this can be seen in the film Spider Man. In one scene, the action happens to take place around buildings hung with ads. If you’re conscious of it, you’ll notice the backdrop of ads, but if you don’t realize they are there, it could be considered a form of subliminal advertising. It’s unclear whether these ads might influence your next purchase, but they are likely to be taken in unconsciously and contribute to simple name recognition.
Some directors like to insert subliminal messages in their movies on purpose as ‘Easter eggs’. An example of this can be seen in the film ‘Seven’ where a subliminal image of Gwyneth Paltrow is shown for a fraction of a second right before John Doe (Kevin Spacey) is shot by David Mills (Brad Pitt). The director also used similar subliminal images in his film Fight Club.