Before conscious reflection can take place
Part I recap
Research demonstrates that people are influenced by different kinds of subliminal/subconscious triggers. This is why flashed subliminal screen messages have been banned by the British and Australian governments for decades, despite subsequent research indicating that their impact is generally constrained by other factors. (click here for Part I)
Flight or fight response set
Why are we potentially vulnerable to such stimuli? –In order to survive, our early ancestors needed to be in tune with subliminal, below the level of conscious awareness sensory input. We have them to thank for our hard-wired flight or fight response to such stimuli. –Have you ever suddenly awakened after hearing an unfamiliar thud or bang? Is it a burglar? A possum in the attic? Or, something completely harmless? Before conscious reflection can take place, you are already primed for action. This and similar hard wiring leaves us open to being manipulated, e.g., making a purchase or supporting a cause–that may be against our best interests.
The Placebo effect and other “confounding variables”
Experiments show that subjects evaluated photographs of individuals somewhat more positively or negatively depending on whether a preceding subliminal image was positive or negative. That said, the general physical attractiveness of each individual was by far the more powerful determiner.
Subliminal negative messages in political ads seem to have an effect, echoing the more powerful, well-established finding that negative political ads are more effective than positive ones. Only limited research has been done on how to optimize the generally limited impact of flashed subliminal messages. The content of subliminals and their timing needs to be exactly right.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that the headline “Avoid These Fatal Mistakes” is more likely to get our attention than “Make Better Choices.” We see abundant examples of this negative priming in all the click bait that pops up at the bottom of news media screens.
The military has used subliminal tapes and CDs to help personnel recognize foreign ships and aircraft. Has this worked? To a limited degree, yes, though the placebo effect (the belief among subjects that it would help) is apparently the most powerful among the determining factors.
More recently, studies have revealed that anaesthetized patients recall more of what doctors and nurses say when undergoing medical procedures than previously believed possible. This is concerning because we know that subliminal negative images and words can alter a person’s mood, perhaps, in this case, even their ability to heal.