•To study subliminal advertising using secondary resources. •To study live examples of subliminal advertising and understand the implications of it.
The term “subliminal” is derived from the construct of a “limen of consciousness”, a threshold or line separating conscious from unconscious. The concept dates back to the literal beginning of psychology as an empirical science separate from philosophy in the seminal writings of Johan Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841). Herbart argued that ideas (i.e., both perceptions and thoughts) differed from one another in strength, and inhibit or suppress one another in a dynamical fashion, competing with one another to achieve enough strength to rise above the “limen of consciousness” and, hence, be consciously experienced.
Pratkanis and Greenwald identify four types of subliminal stimuli: (1) sub threshold stimuli, which are presented at energy levels that are too weak to be detected by the audience (e.g., flashing the words “Eat popcorn” onto a screen so quickly that the audience is not aware of them), (2) masked stimuli, which are hidden from the audience by the presentation of some other, overriding stimuli (e.g., briefly presenting the stimulus immediately followed by a bright flash of light), (3) unattended stimuli, which are presented in such a way that the embedded figure is unlikely to be segregated from its figural context (e.g., hiding the figure of a naked body in the curves and lines of a picture of an ice cube), (4) figurally transformed stimuli, which are words or pictures blurred or distorted to the point that they are unrecognizable (e.g., commands recorded backward and inserted into popular music). (Pratkanis, A. R. (1992). The cargo-cult science of subliminal persuasion. The Skeptical Inquirer, 16(3), 260-272.)
Ideas below the line still exist, in this view, and through collateral inhibition can influence what other ideas, including themselves, are subsequently consciously experienced. In this way, perceptions obtained only subliminally (i.e., below the “limen of consciousness”) can still affect what we experience consciously (i.e., think about) and how we behave. It is this idea or something very similar to it that informs most popular discussion of subliminal persuasion or perception. Yet, except for Freudian psychology (which is not a credible scientific theory of perception or cognition), few models of perception and cognition take such notions seriously. Contrary to the common caricature of psychology in the popular media, no modern theory posits “an unconscious”, that is, a mind-entity separate from consciousness such that perceptions, ideas, beliefs and desires can slip or exert influence from one to the other. Rather, perceptual and cognitive processes can and often do occur without our awareness and without our having to or, in many cases, even being able to consciously control them.
Subliminal messages target the subconscious mind and may be generated in the form of an image transmitted briefly and not perceived consciously and yet perceived unconsciously. While the conscious, rational mind acts as a filter and screens out messages not consistent with our beliefs, the subconscious mind accepts messages without filtering them - rather like the mind of a child. The effects of subliminal television advertising could be even more powerful on children. It’s been found that for each additional hour per day that a child watched television an average of one additional request was made for an advertised product. In 1963 Barber & Calverley (1963) found that children between the ages of 6 and 12 were more susceptible to hypnotic-like suggestions than were adults. A review of studies on suggestibility of children reveals that children seem to be more susceptible to suggestive questions in an interview situation. (Is there an effect of subliminal messages in music on choice behaviour? Egermann, Kopiez et al. Journal of...