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Zidbits – Learn something new everyday! | November 27, 2014

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How Do Subliminal Messages Work?

How Do Subliminal Messages Work?

Subliminal messages or ‘subliminal stimuli’ are well known in popular culture for their power to evoke an emotional response without an individual being aware or conscious of it. Today we’re going to explore what subliminal messages are and if such methods actually work.

What Are Subliminal Messages?

Subliminal messages are sensory related stimuli that are aimed below a persons level of conscious perception. The two most common types 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 use in influencing and attracting potential 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?

subliminal fight club

Subliminal Tyler in Fight Club

Subliminal messages haven’t been proven to work to any significant degree. While researchers have been able to demonstrate they can prep an individual’s responses and stimulate mild emotional activity on susceptible individuals, the consensus among scientists and psychologists is that subliminal messages do not produce a strong, enduring effect on a person’s behavior. Despite their rigorous testing, the experiments showed very little actual influence beyond a subtle, momentary 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.

Duke University Subliminal Experiment


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