Subliminal Message



A subliminal message is a signal or message embedded in another object, designed to pass below the normal limits of perception. These messages are indiscernible to the conscious mind, but are alleged to be perceptible to the subconscious or deeper mind: for example, an image transmitted so briefly that it is only perceived subconsciously, but not otherwise noticed. Subliminal techniques have occasionally been used in advertising and propaganda; the purpose, effectiveness and frequency of such techniques is debated.

In 1900, Knight Dunlap, an American professor of psychology, flashed an "imperceptible shadow" to subjects while showing them a Mueller-Lyer illusion containing two lines with pointed arrows at their ends which create an illusion of different lengths. Dunlap claimed that the shadow influenced his subjects subliminally in their judgment of the lengths of the lines. Although these results were not verified, American psychologist Harry Levi Hollingworth reported in an advertising textbook that such subliminal messages could be used by advertisers.

James Vicary, a market researcher, falsely claimed in 1957 that quickly flashing messages on a movie screen had influenced people to purchase more food and drink. Vicary coined the term subliminal advertising and formed the Subliminal Projection Company based on a six-week test in which he flashed the slogans "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Eat popcorn" during a movie for 1/3000 of a second at five-second intervals. Vicary claimed that during the test, sales of popcorn and Coke in the New Jersey theater where the test was conducted increased 57.5 percent and 18.1 percent respectively.

Vicary's claims led to a public outcry, and to many conspiracy theories of governments and cults using the technique to their advantage. The practice of subliminal advertising was subsequently banned in the United Kingdom, Australia and in the United States (by the National Association of Broadcasters in 1958, and under the law, in 1974, by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)). But in 1958, Vicary conducted a television test in which he flashed the message "telephone now" hundreds of times during a Canadian Broadcasting Company program, and found no increase in telephone calls. In 1962, Vicary admitted that he fabricated his claim. Efforts to replicate the results of Vicary's reports have never resulted in success.

In 1973, Wilson Bryan Key's book Subliminal Seduction claimed that subliminal techniques were widely used in advertising. The book contributed to a general climate of fear with regard to Orwellian dangers of subliminal messaging. Public concern was sufficient to cause the FCC to hold hearings in 1974, which resulted in a declaration stating that subliminal advertising was "contrary to the public interest", and in the aforementioned ban.

In 2006, a study by Dr. Johan Karremans at the University of Nijmegen suggested that subliminal messaging may have an effect when the message is goal-relevant. The study, however, was criticized for its lack of controls.

Certain types of subliminal perception (hypnosis, for example) are known to affect the perceiver without any conscious knowledge of the effect on his part. However, there is no strong evidence that the types of messages discussed in this article (ones embedded into normal objects such as posters or movies) are at all effective.

Perception of subliminal messages is a type of subconscious cognition. Unlike unconscious tasks such as attending to one signal in a noisy environment while keeping track of other signals (e.g., listening to one voice out of many in a crowded room) and automatic tasks such as breathing, subliminal message cognition cannot be done consciously.

An important question about subliminal perception is: How much of the message is perceived? That is, is the whole message sensed and fully digested, or are only its main and simpler features? There are at least two schools of thought about this. One of them argues that only the simpler features of unconscious signals could be perceived. The second school of thought argues that unconscious cognition is comprehensive and that much more is perceived than can be verbalized.

Proponents of the power of subliminal messages claim they gain influence or power from the fact that they circumvent the critical functions of the conscious mind, and therefore subliminal suggestions are potentially more powerful than ordinary suggestions. This route to influence or persuasion would be akin to auto-suggestion or hypnosis, wherein the subject is encouraged to be (or somehow induced to be) relaxed so that suggestions are directed to deeper (more gullible) parts of the mind; some observers have suggested that the unconscious mind is incapable of critical refusal of hypnotic or subliminal suggestions.

However, critics of the theory have suggested that the effect of subliminal messages would at best be no more than that of a glimpse of a billboard in the corner of an eye. Controlled experiments that attempt to demonstrate the influence of subliminal messages generally find little to no effect.

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.

In the field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), "embedded commands" are used to (supposedly) bypass the conscious mind, directly affecting the subconscious. Certain words emphasized in a sentence will supposedly cause the hearer to mentally connect those words, without realizing it. For example, hearing "Who KNOWS what will happen in this field of research? There could be an (h)ITCH NOW in one of the projects" spoken, with the capitalized words emphasized, allegedly causes a desire to scratch one's nose.

In 1978, Wichita, Kansas TV station KAKE-TV received special permission from the police to place a subliminal message in a report on the BTK Killer in an effort to get him to turn himself in. The image, which appeared for a split second, showed a pair of glasses (an image thought to hold significance to him) and text that read "Now call the chief." The attempt was unsuccessful, and police reported no increased volume of calls afterward, though the killer was eventually caught in 2005.

Before the re-election of French president François Mitterrand in 1988, a subliminal picture of him was mixed in the title sequence of French national television daily news show, and it appeared for several consecutive days.

During the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign, a television ad campaigning for Republican candidate George W. Bush showed words (and parts thereof) scaling from the foreground to the background on a television screen. When the word BUREAUCRATS flashed on the screen, one frame showed only the last part, RATS. Democrats promptly asked the FCC to look into the matter, but no penalties were ever assessed in the case. The effect this had on the overall presidential race was unclear. The Democrats and Al Gore received ridicule for finding malicious intent in something that could have been a simple mistake; the Republicans received ridicule for the lack of attention to detail and Bush's mispronunciation of "subliminal" (it came out as "subliminable").

Another instance of subliminal advertising revolves around commercials for the game Hūsker Dū? which flashed the message 'Get it', in the United States and Canada, prompting a furor.

Recently found in the Vancouver Film Festival, artist Stanley Moonaky has given in and told all that every minute and eleven seconds "Eat Beef" is quickly splashed across the screen of his underground documentary "Vegetarians for Less".

In the British alternative comedy show "The Young Ones", a number of subliminal images were present in the original and repeated broadcasts. Images included a gull coming into land, a tree frog jumping through the air, and the end credits of the movie "Carry On Cowboy". No explanation for these images was given and their relevance, if any, to the plot of the episodes in which they appear is debatable. Although they may fall foul of the FCC guidelines, these images DO appear in the US boxset DVD "Every Stoopid Episode". In a 1970's episode of "Columbo", Robert Culp's character returned to the crime scene after a subliminal cut was placed in the movie and thereby incriminated him in the murder.

An internet-based prank flash called "Subliminal Messages" or "Subliminal Music and Images" features two supposed visual messages and an audio message. The first is the word "SEX" hidden in a gin advertisement (this message was one of those alleged by Wilson Bryan Key). The second is a woman masturbating, hidden in an advertisement for a flooring company. The animation then switches to the text of the Lord's Prayer, and starts playing Cradle of Filth's "Dinner at Deviant Palace" backward, along with faint noises. In the middle of the song, a loud scream is heard, and a series of disturbing images is flashed. The last image is a gray scale image of a mummy without wrappings, which fades away, followed by a message, "Never trust flash animations talking about subliminal stuff!"

Some groups have made claims that subliminal messages can be found in various forms of popular entertainment, such as the supposed use of "backward messages" in rock and roll songs. Many of these purported messages are Satanic; for example, if the Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven" is played backwards, lyrics including "Oh here's to my sweet Satan" can supposedly be made out. Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" is also supposed to contain a pro-marijuana message: "It's fun to smoke marijuana". These two messages have not been confirmed by the artists, and have not been proven to exist. In contrast, some obvious Satanic messages have been backmasked into rock songs, although parody messages and artistic backmasking are more common. See the List of backmasked messages.

While their ultimate efficacy is somewhat controversial, subliminal messages have a long history in television shows, movies, and novels.

In an episode of Family Guy, Peter becomes president of a cigarette company which uses commercials in which the character Jerry (an advertiser for the company) randomly pops in and says bluntly, "Smoke." and "Are you smoking yet?"

As a joke, the creators of Beavis and Butt-Head inserted an obvious subliminal message with the twosome headbanging to the words "Nachos Rule", in flashing light.

Episode 9 of Clone High (Raisin the Stakes: A Rock Opera in Three Acts) features many (parody) subliminal messages.

In an episode of "the Simpsons", Bart and his band member sang a song written by an undercover naval offiver disguised as a band manager. Lisa eventually discovered that a section of the lyrics is actually "join the navy" spelled backwards.

Other references deal with the supposed frequent use of subliminal messages to persuade people, in advertising and propaganda.

Governments are often depicted as employing subliminal messages in propaganda. The movie Josie and the Pussycats described a long lasting plot whereby the US government was controlling trends by inserting subliminal messages in popular music. Furthermore, towards the end of the film, a government agent shuts down the operation, saying that subliminal advertising works better in films. The words "Josie and the Pussycats is the best movie ever" are then spoken rapidly in voice-over and displayed quickly onscreen, with the words "Join The Army" in smaller letters below it. And in the 2005 science fiction movie "Serenity," the Alliance uses subliminal messages broadly disseminated in commercials and other video to cause River Tam to go berserk. It only works on River because she was subjected to Alliance training and conditioning.

Many references deal specifically with the military. An episode of The Simpsons involved Bart and his friends joining a boy band, the Party Posse. While watching a video for the Party Posse, Lisa notices the phrase "Yvan Eht Nioj" being repeated continuously by belly-dancers. She plays the video in reverse and finds that it means "Join the Navy". Also, an Uncle Sam "I Want You" poster can be seen in the video frame by frame. The joke was that the United States sends subliminal messages in order to recruit people. In addition, the art of "superliminal messages" was demonstrated to Lisa; a Navy representative leans out a window, picks a random passerby, and shouts "Hey you! Join the Navy!" And in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle titled Reese joins the Army (2), one of the Drill Sergeants comments that "...the subliminal messages are working!" Another Drill Sergeant then asks "What subliminal messages...?" Not too different from the joke in The Simpsons episode mentioned above, this episode was a joking reference to the low military recruiting numbers in 2004 suggesting that the US military uses such things in a tactic of desperation. And in an episode of Babylon 5, during a scene which represents a public service announcement for Psi Corps, the words "TRUST THE CORPS" and "THE CORPS IS YOUR FRIEND" appear on screen for four frames, double the length of what the FCC designates as subliminal.

Subliminal messages are also depicted as being used in advertising. The plot of the movie They Live revolves around a man accidentally acquiring a pair of sunglasses which allow the wearer to see subliminal messages in billboards, magazines, and even money.

Some other references to subliminal persuasion in popular culture:

* In the episode Are You Right There, Father Ted? of the 1990s TV sitcom Father Ted, the lead character is accused of being a racist and attempts to clear his name by inviting representatives of the local ethnic minorities to a presentation, during which slides saying FATHER TED CRILLY, NOT A RACIST can be seen quite deliberately flashing up.

* In William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer, a gang called the Panther Moderns uses subliminal images to fool police departments and public security agencies into thinking that an extremely dangerous psychoactive agent had been released into the ventilation of a Sense/Net building.

* In Dean Koontz's 1976 novel Night Chills, the protagonist and his two children vacation in the small town of Black Rock. The town has been secretly selected by ex-military and corporate fanatics for an experiment in mind control through the use of subliminal messaging. The townspeople are unaware that their minds are being controlled by a sadistic scientist; the only outward clue is that the residents all experience night chills. In writing the book, Koontz researched the topic of subliminal messaging with assistance from scientists.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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