Are subliminal messages work? [Shocking Examples!]
The human mind functions as an enormous storehouse and calculator of risks, information and probabilities. On the conscious level, people utilize images, sensations and data in rapid-fire response to everyday situations. However, other levels of consciousness that lie below normal awareness also operate, providing important information. These different levels of awareness can be difficult to understand.
Subliminal messaging is a method of communication that speaks to these lower levels of consciousness. Although, the mind is not aware of the communication, it continues to inform the person in an unseen way.
What Is Subliminal Messaging?
Any discussion of subliminal messaging must first deal with different levels of consciousness. Human beings are not always fully aware of the stimuli that affect their thinking. A lower level of thought called the “subconscious” exists in the mind. The unconscious is much like a vast storage room that stores information about life experiences, beliefs, sensations, abilities and memories. This data can then be incorporated in to your daily existence, without conscious effort.
While the conscious mind utilizes logic to calculate thoughts and actions used in daily life, the unconscious provides information on previous experiences and events that make living daily life easier. For example, learning to drive is a conscious act. The separate skills needed to accomplish this task then go into the subconscious, allowing you to continue to drive while you hold a conversation with the passenger next to you or while you consciously listen to the directions from your GPS. At the basic level, there are three types of subliminal messages:
- Subvisual messages – Messages that are fast so quickly the conscious mind is not aware of them
- Subaudible messages – Low volume messages that are inserted into louder audio stimuli, such as music
- Backmasking – Messages that are recorded backward, to be played forward to disguise the message.
Why Communicate With the Subconscious Mind?
The unconscious mind offers almost unlimited ability to absorb information of many kinds. While the conscious mind busily evaluates and judges what it sees, hears and experiences, the subconscious mind simple puts the information into mental storage for later use. Studies of people under anesthesia indicate that even when individuals are totally unconscious, they can absorb information that is presented to them in that state. However, there is much less choosing and filtering in the subconscious mind, and this quality can be used to implant any kind of information, without the usual judgments of the conscious mind.
How Subliminal Messaging Is Used
Over the past decades, the field of advertising has investigated various ways of using psychology and subliminal messaging to induce people to purchase and consume more of a product than they normally would. In some cases, the subliminal messaging is used as a method of political persuasion. At other times, it is used as a means to entertain or satirize. Some well-known instances of subliminal messages include:
- During the 1950s, subliminal flashing of the words “eat popcorn” or “drink Coke” was used to increase sales at the concession stands.
- The Beatles recorded music with backmasking on their albums, which Christian groups believed subliminally planted Satanic messages.
- During the 2000 U.S. election, the campaign of George W. Bush aired an ad that flashed the word “rats” quickly to disparage the Democrats.
Pause the video at 0:22-0:24 and you will see the word "RATS":
Did Early Efforts at Subliminal Messaging Succeed?
Unfortunately, the effort to influence purchasing habits through subliminal messaging never produced the results the increase in sales that advertisers hoped. The increase in sales of Beatles albums was primarily due to curiosity about the messaging and not the messaging itself. Studies to influence people to choose certain products, such as one study implemented to influence subjects to choose Lipton’s Ice Tea produced only the slightest increase in choice of the beverage. One aspect that is most instructive is the attitudes of consumers who find out that advertisers have attempted to sway their choices with subliminal messaging.
These consumers tend to protest the effort vigorously, objecting at the attempt at “mind control”. In general, using hidden psychological methods has a negative historical connotation that continues to the present day. Consumers expect companies to deal fairly with them in regard to the advertising of their products, providing honest information in a comprehensive manner that allows them to utilize their free choice in choosing one product over another.
This attitude is no doubt a byproduct of the capitalistic system in which competition must be fair and equitable in order to succeed in the broader sense.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Provides New Information
How the mind works has been largely a mystery to scientists until relatively recently. Electro-encephalograms provided information about the electrical activity in the brain for many decades. Today, a special type of magnetic resonance imaging uses the power of magnets to “see” where activity is occurring in various parts of the brain. This ability has expanded the power of science to understand how the brain functions and what factors are in play to cause certain reactions.
The technology allows researchers to see the exact parts of the brain when conscious awareness is stimulated and when subconscious awareness is stimulated. They have learned that conscious awareness utilizes certain pathways in the brain’s neurological circuitry. Subconscious awareness, that which is utilized in subliminal messaging, uses pathways involved in both conscious awareness and unconscious stimulation. It is these pathways that allow the visual images and sound events to enter the mind and come into conscious awareness when needed.
When Is Subliminal Messaging Effective?
Research on psychology, advertising and persuasion has provided some interesting information regarding the use of subliminal messaging.
First, they found that the messaging is effective when the need exists initially. For example, an individual is more likely to be influenced by a subliminal message that suggests they go shopping, if they have a need to go shopping but are not consciously aware of it yet. Subliminal messages’ ability to “trigger” action can then be used to induce the related action. It can be expected that, in many cases, a fixed percentage of the population will experience the “need” at the same time. Using subliminal messaging simply taps into the need to influence the action.
The idea for the behavior can be implanted in advance of the actual need, in a kind of “priming” for future action. The priming must suggest either a lack of something, such as a deprivation, or a favorable association with an outcome from the action. Using this method of priming, suggesting deprivation or imprinting positive association with the action can cause individuals to behave as subliminally influenced.
Learning How To Use Subliminal Messaging
Even if companies wished to use subliminal messaging on a widespread basis, the fundamental principles would be difficult to implement. The messaging must be done at the right speed and frequency. If it is too fast, the subconscious mind cannot absorb it. If the rate were too slow, consumers would notice it and feel they are being tricked into purchasing a product.
The research also shows that the results of subliminal messaging do not last for a significant amount of time after its implementation. If the messaging were produced in a theater setting, it would have to be flashed close to the end of the movie to ensure that the desired action took place soon after the showing. Nor could the messaging be done frequently, as consumers would be sure to notice the message and react negatively. For these reasons, subliminal messaging is thought to be of limited use in influencing consumer trends.
However, technological changes may provide new opportunities to use this method of communication that bypasses the normal neurological paths and connects more intimately to the deeper levels of brain circuitry.
What Subliminal Messaging Cannot Do
Many individuals have tried to use subliminal messaging as a method for influencing purchasing choices, learning new skills and adjusting behavioral patterns. A number of products to accomplish these goals using subliminal messaging have been offered, but they are completely useless in providing these results.
Current research suggests that the ability of the mind to take up information provided in subliminal messaging appears is limited and of short duration. If you had hoped to learn a foreign language or stop smoking through suggestion while you sleep, you are likely to be sadly disappointed. Money spent on these products is wasted, because there is no capacity in the brain to utilize complex information while unconscious. Individuals would be better served to invest money in more conventional methods of learning and behavioral therapies, which have a track record of success, even if they require more conscious effort on the individual’s part.
Science’s understanding of the intricacies of brain function has only recently come to light, due to developments in specialized diagnostic brain imagery. This technology will continue to reveal more mysteries about the brain and how it functions. As scientists learn more about brain function, subliminal messaging may be used more effectively for a variety of purposes, harnessing the subconscious power of the mind to educate, motivate, entertain and inspire.