ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Power of the Subliminal Message

Updated on July 24, 2013

little perceptions in the big world

In the 1970s, I read about an experiment that took place in a department store, where the management played a subsonic tape repeating the words I am honest, I will not steal, in addition to the normal in-store music. At the end of a definite period, they reported a fall in incidences of shoplifting by many percentage points. For years, I wondered about the experiment. Maybe shoplifting fell for other reasons? It could have been that store detectives, desperately wanting the experiment to work, unconsciously determined to nab fewer “lifters” than usual.

I was wrong. Only later in life, did I learn about the power of subliminal messaging, about the experiments of James Vicary during the 1950s, and about the much more extensive use (and indeed, abuse) of subliminal images in advertising. However, many people are still sceptical. This is unsurprising, given the difficulty in determining results in all experiments of a psychological nature. Writers on the subject cite the difficulty in establishing the effectiveness of subliminal imaging. If subliminal perception does exist, it is still not certain that subliminal messages would be more effective than other forms of advertising, writes Arthur Koponen. At this point, I think of the old adage on advertising, that one half of it is wasted but that nobody knows which half. Surely, the same is true for subliminal messaging – but what is subliminal perception and how does it work?

Subliminal perception has been defined as perception without awareness. Interestingly, philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle and Democritus believed in its existence. Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), a more recent philosopher, shared this belief. A mathematician as well as a philosopher, he was the first thinker to introduce the idea of the unconscious. He defined déjà vu, that weird phenomenon whereby we get a feeling of having seen or heard an event in some other place or time, while it is still rolling. Very occasionally, there is a slight but definite lapse in time between the “happening” of an event, and our awareness of it. This is what accounts for that feeling of déjà vu.

Leibniz pointed out that the world is filled with perceptions, but that we can only consciously focus on a small part of it at one time. He theorized that we somehow pick up numerous other perceptions without being consciously aware of them. Such unconscious perceptions he called little perceptions. Today, we know that images seen with only one eye register in both cortices of the brain. The same is true of the sounds that we register in our ears. Experiments by present-day psychologists have determined that there are varying levels of consciousness.

Most of us can identify with the gamut of consciousness, from being fully alert to relaxed, then sleepy, and then sound asleep. In The Awakened Mind, C Maxwell Cade and Nona Coxhead have identified seven different states, from deep sleep to what they call “lucid awareness”. These states register definite wave patterns on what they call a “mind mirror”, a type of electroencephalograph that detects and measures brainwaves. The same couple has conducted experiments to demonstrate that, at certain levels of consciousness, most notably the state between waking and dreaming, we are more receptive to suggestion by words and images that at others. This is known as the hypnagogic state.

Even more significantly, advertisers use words that arouse emotion, words like love, money and so forth. We know that individuals respond to certain words more emotionally than others, for example, the name of a loved one or even our own name. Experiments undertaken by psychology writer NF Dixon between 1971 and 1981 show that individuals, even in a state of deep sleep, respond to these words. These responses can be recorded with equipment that monitor skin resistance. In 1962, James Vicary did confess that he faked the results of at least one of his experiments. However, the world and many store managers have turned a deaf ear to this confession. Graphic artists and advertising managers have had enormous fun with subliminal messaging, ever since.

Subliminal messaging has even found its way into the world of sound. In the film classic Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990), composer Danny Elfman recounts how he selected the soundtrack to accompany various situations in the movie. Elfman, of course, composed several of the actual scores, including the haunting “ice dance” music, which signatures the more romantic parts of the movie. However, Elfman also had to score the more sinister parts of the story. In the sequence where Edward is “criminalized” by being pulled into house-breaking by Kim’s jealous boyfriend, the music takes on a darker twist. On video, Elfman explains how he twisted around the brighter music from the earlier part of the movie, in effect, playing the sequences backwards. Thus, the film audience receives subliminal echoes of the earlier score, while signalling the darker direction of the story.

The accompanying image contains my name in bags – can you find out where?

Sources

  • Colliers Encyclopaedia
  • The Awakened Mind by C Maxwell Cade & Nona Coxhead, Element Books, 1991
  • The Oxford Companion to the Mind, edited by Richard L Gregory, Oxford University Press, 1987

Read my piece on Optical Illusions







Look and see....

...find if you can!
...find if you can!

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Mary Phelan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Phelan 

      5 years ago from London

      Thank you for your comment. I continue to research this fascinating subject, and I appreciate the lead.

      With best wishes

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 years ago from HighPoint, N.C.

      Mary Phelan, being from London, are you familiar with Richard Dawkins' "meme" discovery? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme meme is pronounced "me ' mm" {such as a "gene", except with "m" replacing the "g" & "n" letters, respectively}. Memes are indeed the product of subliminal & the most effective uses of Commercialism, Marketing, Cultural Ideas, etc. etc. {both negative & positive, and everything in between}, it's how ideas spread the easiest & most rapidly (via it's natural biological processes).

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      "The Medium is the Message" by Marshall McLuhan was one of the most influential books for me in college-and the one that opened my eyes to the subject of this Hub. Thank you for this writing, I'll have to check out your references.

      Well done!

      Laurel

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 

      5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Leibniz was right. Perception can be easily fooled and subliminal messaging comes down to nothing more than the power of suggestion which should never be underestimated.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)