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Subliminal stimulation (Template:IPA-en, literally "below threshold"), contrary to supraliminal stimuli or above threshold, is any sensory stimulation below an individual's absolute threshold for conscious perception. Visual stimuli may be quickly flashed before an individual may process it, or flashed and then masked thereby interrupting the processing. Audio stimuli may be played below audible volumes, similarly masked by other stimuli, or recoreded backwards called backmasking. Introduced in 1897, the concept became controversial as subliminal messages in 1957 when marketing practitioners claimed its potential persuasive use. Subsequent scientific research, however, were unable replicate most of these marketing claims beyond a placebo.
Used in advertising to create familiarity with new products, subliminal messages make familiarity into a preference for the new products. Johan Karremans suggests that subliminal messages have an effect when the messages are goal-relevant. 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.
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 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. If the subjects were flashed a whole sentence, the words would not be perceived and no effect would be expected.
In 1983, in five studies with 52 undergraduate and graduate students, found that although subliminally flashing and the masking the words affects the availability of conscious processing, it however has little effect on visual processing itself. This suggests that perceptual processing is an unconscious activity that proceeds to all levels of available and redescription analysis. For example if flashed the word "butter" the individual would be quicker to identify the word "bread" than an unrelated word such as "bottle."
In 1991, Baldwin and others in two studies questioned whether priming individuals with images flashed for an instant may affect experiences of self. In the first study flashed images of the scowling face of their faculty adviser or an approving face of another before graduate students evaluated their own research ideas. In the second study, participants who were Catholic were asked to evaluate themselves after being flashed a disapproving face of the Pope or another unfamiliar face. In both studies the self-ratings were lower after the presentation of a disapproving face with personal significance, however in the second study there was no effect if the disapproving face were unfamiliar.
In 1992, Krosnick and others in two studies with 162 undergraduates demonstrated that attitudes can develop without being aware of its antecedents. Individuals viewed nine slides of people performing familiar daily activities after being exposed to either an emotionally positive scene, such as a romantic couple or kittens, or an emotionally negative scene, such as a werewolf or a dead body between each slide. After exposure from which the individuals consciously perceived as a flash of light, the participants gave more positive personality traits to those people whose slides were associated with a emotionally positive scene and vice-versa. Despite the statistical difference, the subliminal messages had less of an impact on judgment than the slide's inherent level of physical attractiveness. In order to determine whether these images affect an individual's evaluation of novel stimuli, unfamiliar Chinese characters, a study was conducted in 1993 which produced in similar results.
In 1998, Bar and Biederman questioned whether an image flashed briefly would prime an individual's response. An image was flashed for 47 milliseconds and then a mask would interrupt the processing. Following the first presentation only one in seven individuals could identify the image, while after the second presentation fifteen and twenty minutes later one in three could identify the image.
In 2004, in two studies 13 white individuals were exposed to either white or black faces, flashed either subliminally for 30 milliseconds or supraliminally for over half a second. Individuals showed greater fusiform gyrus and amygdala response to black faces than white, suggesting that the great amount of facial processing may be associated with a greater emotional response.
In a 2005 study, individuals were exposed to subliminal image flashed 16.7 milliseconds that could signal a potential threat and again with a supraliminal image flashed for half a second. Individuals showed greater individuals showed amygdala activity, although right amygdala showed greater response to subliminal fear and the left amygdala showed greater response to supraliminal fear. Furthermore supraliminal fear showed more sustained cortical activity, suggesting that subliminal fear may not entail conscious surveillance while supraliminal fear entails higher-order processing.
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.
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. However, this is not generally accepted as fact.
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 claimed effects of such tapes.
The most extensive study of therapeutic effectiveness of subliminal 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.
The effectiveness of subliminal messaging have been demonstrated to prime individual responses and stimulate mild emotional activity. Applications, however, often base themselves on the persuasiveness of the message. The near-consensus among research psychologists is that subliminal messages do not produce a powerful, enduring effect on behavior; and that laboratory research reveals little effect beyond a subtle, fleeting effect on thinking. For example, priming thirsty people with a subliminal word may, for a brief period of time, make a thirst-quenching beverage advertisement more persuasive. Research upon those claims of a lasting effects such as weight loss, smoking cessation, how music in popular culture may corrupt their listeners, how it may facilitate unconscious wishes in psychotherapy, and how market practitioners may exploit their customers—conclude that there is no effect beyond a placebo. In a 1994 study comparing television commercials with the message either supraliminal or subliminal, individuals produced higher ratings with those that were supraliminal. Unexpectedly, individuals somehow were less likely to remember the subliminal message than if there were no message.
- Key, W. B. (1973), Subliminal seduction: Ad media's manipulation of a not so innocent America, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, ISBN 0138590907
- PMID 8505704 (PMID 8505704)
- Vokey, John R. (2002), "Subliminal Messages", in John R. Vokey and Scott W. Allen (PDF), Psychological Sketches (6th ed.), Lethbridge, Alberta: Psyence Ink, pp. 223–246, Archived from the original on 2004-07-28, http://web.archive.org/web/20040728195806/http://people.uleth.ca/~vokey/pdf/Submess.pdf, retrieved on 2006-07-05
- Robinson, B.A., Backmasking on records: Real, or hoax?, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_cul5.htm, retrieved on 2006-07-04
- Moore, Timothy E. (Spring 1992), Subliminal Perception: Facts and Fallacies, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, pp. 273-81, http://www.csicop.org/si/9204/subliminal-perception.html, retrieved on 2006-08-11
- 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.
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