Research Into Subliminal Messaging
"Subliminal stimuli, even when unnoticed, influenced consciously guided performances "
Dr Greenwald and Dr Draine of Washington University 1
Subliminal advertising was banned in 1974, but does it work? This question has been the subject of a great deal of conjecture and controversy, but recently hard evidence has emerged that we not only take in subliminal messages, we inevitably respond to them.
Over recent decades there has been considerable research into ‘unconscious cognition’ – the term used in the field of psychology for the ability of the mind to understand messages which are not consciously noticed. Research by Sean Draine of the University of Washington shows that unconscious cognition is a reality. The mind in this mode can only recognise relatively simple words, but the recognition does occur. This means that we do not need to consciously make sense of a simple message for it to be affecting us. The words enter the mind without being noticed.
Even so, you’d think that the effect of the message would be noticed. The research shows that the subliminal message is taken in and interpreted without the individual knowing about it, and this means that there is dissociation between the recognition of a subliminal message and the conscious mind. But does one notice the effect of the message, or is there also a dissociation between the effects of the message and the conscious mind? If we don't even notice the effects, we can be programmed without knowing, and subliminal advertising would hardly be in our best interests. This is what Draine and Greenwald have to say about the subject. “Practically, evidence for dissociation is important because it implies the possibility of cognitive influences that, because they are produced by undetectable stimuli, cannot be consciously defended against. Subliminal techniques of the sort used now in laboratory research could possibly be developed for use in mass media to produce significant influences on behavior. Importantly, such influences have not yet been compellingly demonstrated in research. Nevertheless, in a recent ruling, a court in the state of Nevada suggested that evidence for subliminal influence could justify an exclusion of subliminal messages from the constitutional protection of free speech afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Vance v. Judas Priest, 1990).”
So, the final question is whether or not the messages we receive subliminally can have any lasting effect, and whether they can ‘produce significant influences on behaviour’.
The research shows that the effect of a single message is very brief, although it is shown to alter the effect of cognition as a whole in that moment. If repeated presentation of the message results in the same repeated effect, one would expect that it would produce a lasting change with consistent use. It is, after all, repetition which produces every kind of habit so it would be reasonable to expect that this would produce a mental habit of having that response, even without the stimulus. In principle this is inevitable, and this principle is very well reseached by Skinner and many others. In practice the obvious answer is that it would not, and the reason is ‘habituation’.
Habituation is the psychological term for a response in the neural ssystem which screens out repeated stimuli, everyday examples are traffic noise or a dripping tap. Habituation would appear to be a safeguard against any kind of seriously invasive programming of the mind by subliminal stimuli, if it happens a lot, the neural circuits just screen it out!
All the same, the possibility for positive and conscious use of this phenomenon is a fascinating one. Computer Hypnosis TM software has been designed with this in mind, and incorporates a powerful mechanism to counteract habituation. A reseach program is in progress which will detemine whether or not significant change can be achived with this kind of effect, and the results will be published at www.computerhypnosis.com. If you are interested in participating in this study, you will be able to do so at the site shortly.
1 Excerpt from the abstract of research paper 'Do Subliminal Stimuli Enter the Mind Unnoticed? Tests with a New Method ' 1998
The research by Draine and Greenwald can be found at http://www.millisecond.com/seandr/psych