Tech UPTechnologyDoes subliminal perception really work?

Does subliminal perception really work?


On September 12, 1957, the publicist James M. Vicary announced the creation of a new company: the Subliminal Projection Company. His intention was to make money with his great discovery, made in a movie theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Between the frames of the movie ‘ Picnic ‘ he had inserted two messages , “drink Coca-Cola” and “eat popcorn”, in flashes lasting one three-thousandth of a second. As he said, with this he had managed to increase popcorn sales by 58% and Coca-Cola by 18%.

In the following years, Vicary was asked to explain the data obtained and detail the description of the procedures followed. Vicary replied that he had not written them but that he would shortly. He never did. In the end, in 1962, Vicary acknowledged the pantomime in an interview for Advertising Age magazine: “We didn’t do any research except what we need to file a patent.” The famous popcorn experiment was never done.

But the idea of subliminal advertising had already settled in the minds of society. In the mid-1970s, some authors convinced us that there were hidden messages inciting erotic arousal in practically all advertisements: the word sex hidden behind an ice cube, a penis-shaped shadow… Something that, of course, , influenced us unconsciously. A decade later, the twist was turned and subliminals began to be sold as part of new self-help methods : learn while you sleep, lose weight while driving or get rich listening to our subliminal messages. The underlying idea was that, under that music that was playing on the CD, they had inserted messages about how good exercise is, or eating fewer calories and less sugar, of which we were not aware. The key point was that they claimed that such messages stuck in the unconscious in such a way that we were forced to follow them; it was as if our unconscious mind was programmed to do so.

This belief spread so quickly that in 1990 the US National Institute of Mental Health financed a large-scale study to test the effectiveness of self-help recordings to stop eating, smoking… Directed by Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, the result was unappealable: it had no effect .

Does it mean that our unconscious does not influence our behavior? Numerous works show that it does. We have proof of this in everyday experience: if a car skids next to us and comes straight to run over us, who makes the decision to jump to the side? Our conscious mind? And when do we decide to trust a person for that “something” that shines through? Hunches, impulses, are unconscious decisions that we deal with on a daily basis .

In recent years, various scientific works have shown that environmental factors play a very important role in our decision-making without our knowing it. Thus, when 4 French and 4 German wines were placed in the cellar of an English supermarket, it was found that if French music was played through the loudspeakers, 77% of the wine sold was French; and vice versa, if German music was played, sales of wine from that country rose to 73%. When customers were asked the reason for their choice, only 1 in 7 admitted that music had influenced their choice. In another, three types of detergent were delivered for evaluation: one was in a box with a predominant yellow color, another blue, and the third had a blue background dotted with yellow. Most opted for the detergent that was in the latter. Was it better detergent? No, because in all three there was the same product. The study subjects extensively described the benefits of detergents and reasoned their choice based on their merits, but no one mentioned the color of the box.

This unconscious influence of environmental factors on decision making is found in all areas of life. Frédéric Brochet, from the University of Bordeaux, demonstrated in a clever experiment that expert sommeliers make the same serious errors of perception: he pitted 54 experts against each other to taste two wines, one white and one red. What no one knew was that the red was white dyed with food coloring. Despite the profound differences between the two, none of the experts realized the deception and described the “red” with the usual adjectives for this type of wine. And it is that the effect of the unconscious is not saved or Wall Street. Different studies have shown that brokers are reluctant to invest in new companies with names that are difficult to pronounce, and that stock prices are influenced if it is sunny or cloudy that day. Obviously, none of these experiments are talking about hypnotism or subliminal seduction, but about how the sights, smells and sounds to which we are exposed every day are capable of selectively activating those motivations -and what follows is capital- that we already have. The unconscious brain is more active, independent and purposeful than previously believed.

All current research leads us to a striking conclusion: we think we know each other when in reality we are not able to understand why we do what we do. The question to be resolved is not whether our unconscious influences our lives, but to determine what role it plays and how far it goes.

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