Monday, March 15, 2010

Subliminal stimuli processing

About a month ago, a friend of mine in the psychology profession, who is a fan of Derren Brown, had me watch this video:

It is an interesting experiment and a very well done one. I like the fact that they included two subjects who were internal controls. I think that it would be a very good idea to repeat the experiment for a larger population, with controls who hadn't even laid eyes on the CD they sent out. Another example of subliminal priming is Derren Brown influences two gentlemen who work in the US advertising industry. Even advertising professionals can be influenced. This video includes the explanation of how he did it. You might want to check out the UK version too.

Another interesting study is the Duke University Subliminal Ad Experiment:

Research=> Automatic Effects of Brand Exposure on Motivated Behavior: How Apple Makes You “Think Different”

This article first examines whether brand exposure elicits automatic behavioral effects as does exposure to social primes. Results support the translation of these effects: participants primed with Apple logos behave more creatively than IBM primed and controls; Disney-primed participants behave more honestly than E!-primed participants and controls. Second, this article investigates the hypothesis that exposure to goal-relevant brands (i.e., those that represent a positively valenced characteristic) elicits behavior that is goal directed in nature. Three experiments demonstrate that the primed behavior showed typical goal-directed qualities, including increased performance postdelay, decreased performance postprogress, and moderation by motivation.

What does this mean, besides the fact that humans can be easily manipulated? These experiments, tricks, and studies show that our minds process information on an unconscious level. In fact, it could be argued that some intuitive may come from this subliminal data processing. (Some intuition comes from the capacity to process things in a global manner.) This ability probably wasn't developed as a means to be influenced, though it probably helps with social interaction, but there is some evidence that it can improve our safety. The Gift of Fear written by security expert Gavin de Becker, suggests that the hunches and gut feelings we sometimes get come from picking up on certain cues that our conscious minds miss. It is a very easy and fascinating book to read, despite it's length. I highly recommend The Gift of Fear to anyone interested in personal safety or even just human behavior.

The way I see it, our minds have to regulate some of the processing of stimuli to the subliminal level because if it was all conscious, we'd get overwhelmed. And while this process can have some undesirable results, it does serve some very important functions.

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