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The Truth About Subliminal Messages

The Truth About Subliminal Messages


[♩ INTRO ] In 1957, an advertising executive from New
Jersey announced that he had convinced moviegoers at a local theater to buy more popcorn using
subliminal messaging. He claimed that 45,000 moviegoers were exposed
to flashes of the words “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” on screen during
a movie—with the words appearing and disappearing so quickly that viewers weren’t even aware
they were there. And as a result, popcorn sales increased an
average of 57.5% and Coke sales increased 18.1%. He got a lot of attention for this supposedly-scientific
test, because those numbers are huge. It was every advertiser’s perfect fantasy
and every consumer’s worst nightmare. The idea that we could be constantly influenced
by messages we don’t even realize we’re getting freaked people out. Except … the whole thing was a hoax. It turned out that there hadn’t been an
increase in popcorn or Coke sales at the theater in question. And according to the theater manager, there
hadn’t been an experiment at all. But that hasn’t stopped us from believing
in the power of subliminal messages. Surveys from 1983, 1994, and 2004 show that
about three-quarters of people who are familiar with subliminal messaging believe that companies
use it — and a majority of those people think that it works. Thankfully, research doesn’t agree. Subliminal perception is for sure a thing. We definitely can react to a stimulus even
when we can’t consciously perceive it. Which is different from superliminal perception—things
that we do consciously perceive, even if we don’t pay direct attention to them, like
product placement. The line in between those two is known as
the subjective threshold. Then, below that, there’s the objective
threshold—the level at which we don’t perceive or react to the thing. Subliminal perception research dates back
to a book published in 1898, when a psychologist was looking to confirm the idea of a so-called
“sub-waking self.” In a few experiments, he asked about two dozen
participants to read numbers or letters on cards. But he held the cards so far away that they
could only see a blur or small dot. When forced to choose, participants could
usually distinguish between numbers and letters—they got it right around two-thirds of the time. And they actually did better than chance at
guessing exactly what was on each card. All of which suggested that they were perceiving
the images on some level, even though they thought they were just guessing. A 1951 study in the journal Psychological
Review found even clearer evidence by conditioning people to associate certain nonsense words
with an electric shock. Later, when the words were shown to them too
briefly to be consciously seen, the researchers measured greater electrodermal activity for
words associated with the shock. That’s a slight change in how well skin
conducts electricity, which is associated with sweating. In other words, even though subjects believed
they hadn’t seen anything, their bodies still anticipated the jolt. So, we know subliminal perception is real. But subliminal advertising doesn’t really
work. Researchers have done plenty of studies, but
no one seems to be able to show any real change in consumer behavior in response to subliminal
ads. For instance, a 1975 study in the journal
Perceptual and Motor Skills flashed the words “Hershey’s Chocolate” over a movie. But the researchers found that none of the
33 subjects given the message bought Hershey’s in the ten days after the exposure. There’s one exception, though. A subliminal message can sort of work—but
only if you’re already motivated to follow it. A 2002 study of 81 undergraduates found that
they did drink more water when subliminally primed with words like “dry” and “thirsty”
— but if and only if they were already thirsty. If they weren’t, the hidden messages didn’t
do anything. In a follow-up experiment in the same study,
35 undergraduates were asked to pick between sports drinks described as “thirst-quenching”
or “electrolyte-restoring”. They were only more likely to prefer the “thirst-quenching”
drink if they were subliminally primed with thirst-related words and were already thirsty. So subliminal messages aren’t going to make
you do things you don’t want to, but they might nudge you gently in a direction you’re
already headed. It makes sense that subliminal messaging wouldn’t
drastically impact your behavior. The message is so subtle that it only has
a subtle effect. Which is good, because subliminal advertising
isn’t technically illegal in the U.S. While Australia and the U.K. have laws against
it, the U.S. doesn’t forbid advertisers or networks from using it. That said, a 1979 Supreme Court case ruled
that it isn’t protected by the First Amendment. And the Federal Communications Commission’s
official stance is that it’s misleading and shouldn’t be used—and they reserve
the right to yank the broadcasting license of anyone who does. So nobody likes subliminal advertising; there
just hasn’t been that much effort put into stopping it. Probably because in the end, it isn’t that
useful. Advertisers don’t really care about sneakily
targeting people who are already motivated to buy their stuff—they’d rather invest
in snagging new customers. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych. If you want to learn about ways your mind
can actually be hacked into buying things, check out our episode on how restaurants trick
you into spending. [♩ OUTRO ]

100 thoughts on “The Truth About Subliminal Messages

  1. I wouldn't have even been mad if there was a subliminal message in this video telling you about subliminal messages. Wait. Maybe that's why everyone on the normal SciShow wants Hank back. DAMN YOU SUBLIMINAL HANK!

  2. I'd say that advertising works mostly through the mere exposure effect.
    One question tho.
    Is there a psycological described feeling of over exposure?
    Becasue oftentimes when I see a brand name for wich the advertisement is frequent and annoying I avoid buying that brand..

  3. There is actually a YouTube channel that I've noticed using subliminal messages. Since YouTube, in their infinite wisdom, doesn't give us a slo-mo button, I don't know what the messages I saw said, but I'm sure I don't appreciate "Long Hair Pretty Nails'" manipulation of her viewers. It makes me angry that sussing out what she's attempting to manipulate viewers into requires downloading the video in question and running it one frame at a time in editing software. YouTube should make it easier for us to report subliminal messaging AND give strikes to those who do it.

  4. What about images instead of words? The brain reconizes images way faster then words and can have an effect on people before they are conciously aware of what they're looking at.

  5. How bout a video about the polygraph? And not just how it works, but why people think it works – to the point that employers, journalists, and law enforcement still use it – when it's been debunked to the point that it's inadmissable as court evidence?

  6. So let me get this straight you expect me to believe people can be hypnotized but that subliminal messaging doesn't work sure

  7. I'm a bit disappointed that there wasn't any subliminal advertising in this video. Guess I'll have to console myself with one of the many fine products made by Big Sky Brewing.

  8. I'd swear I saw the words "Brit is beautiful" flash during this video………but I was already predisposed to thinking that!
    Brit is a smart, intelligent & erudite woman of course (now trying to assuage my guilty feelings!)

  9. SciShow Psych is the greatest channel on Youtube! SciShow Psych is the greatest channel on Youtube! SciShow Psych is the greatest channel on Youtube! SciShow Psych is the greatest channel on Youtube! SciShow Psych is the greatest channel on Youtube! SciShow Psych is the greatest channel on Y- need more Coke n popcorn. brb

  10. When I was in high school, in the 1960s we had to read Vance Packards book "The Hidden Persuaders" which discussed the psychology of subliminal perception.  My teacher was very concerned that these types of messages might be used to sway an election.

  11. in clinical studies, there iS AT best A Negligible eFfect Upon Cognition and Knowledge aS a result of anY Ostensible sUbliminal messaging.

  12. What about this, you walk into Walmart or the equivalent to buy a few things, but then later you walk out with a cart full of stuff you didn’t intend to buy.

  13. Must buy SciShow merch….

    Must buy SciShow merch….

    Must bu… hm?

    No.. it's not a subliminal message making me do it… you seen those T shirts? Must get one of those!

  14. I have never disagreed with a SciShow episode. This needs more research because colors and so much more subliminal adverts are sucessful. Ice Cube Sex: The Truth about Subliminal Advertising is a prime example and thus needs further exploration.

  15. Wait a second, how would they even display these messages? It has to be at leas 1 frame, right? So even at 60 fps we should be able to realize there is something wrong/poppping up.

  16. Disney has been known to put sexual subliminal messages in some of their movies. I'm sure there's a YouTube video or two on that subject.

  17. So subliminal messages are less effective than hypnosis, but works on similar principle. (Like a hypnotized person won't do something they morally object to – just as steal or hurt someone, just because they were told to under the effect of hypnosis.)

  18. what if the studies were funded by advertising companies who want to avoid a mass panic over a possibly-effective advertising method?

  19. 81 and 35 undergrads? Not the strongest power…

    Regardless, this is why I just sneak my snacks and drinks into movie theatres.

  20. So the ACTUAL subliminal message is that when you set up a hoax, people will still believe it, and it will last for generations, even if you tell them it's fake.

  21. I get more annoyed with commercials entirely about leading your actual experiences- say, a soda commercial that goes on about how your mouth is so dry, so thirsty, so parched, why aren't you drinking anything? Don't you realize how thirsty you are, how your mouth must be like cotton right now? Should probably buy our product, unless you hate yourself. It's less of an advertisement and more of an attempt to argue 2+2=5, or even some manner of a protection racket. It's annoying when you are thirsty, because it makes it worse, but is insufferable when you're not thirsty. Hell, if you're not sure if you are thirsty or not, it's meant to take you off the fence in the same way you don't question little Timmy's safety at his friend's house until a scaremongering film goes out of its way to show all the horrible things that could happen if you take your eyes off Timmy for one second. I guess you could actually call it "thirstmongering" or "hungermongering." You're not you when you're hungry, right?

  22. Here's an idea for a future video.

    Why is everything funny when you're super tired?

    Comment or like if you think Scishow Psych should do a video on this topic.

  23. When I was in college, the drive-in theater did flash words like “thirsty” and “hungry” during ads, and once during the movie. I could see the words, but none of the friends I went with could. They thought I was insane, but when I asked the manager, he said yep, and it was “illegal” for me to tell anyone. Heh. Dishonest all around.

  24. Saw a similar study in Scientific American;
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/medicalxpress.com/news/2016-11-tv-snack-ads-preschoolers.amp

  25. Could you use subliminal messaging to remind people to take their medicine? Since they're already sort of primed for that?

  26. Really? A PragerU commercial on SciShow? You should pay more attention to the advertisements allowed before your videos.

  27. Print ads use subliminal imagery all the time. And the biggest place I notice it is in vending machine art. Which makes sense. If you're in a situation to be looking at a vending machine, odds are you are already thirsty and considering a drink. That little nudge could push someone over the edge.

  28. This video contains incorrect information. No doubt about it.
    There have been numerous patents issued for subliminal effects, with supporting data and researches. I have seen many such patents and have seen subliminal airbrushing of ice cubes into skulls in alcohol advertising in some European magazines, particularly popular German magazines during the early 1980s. I have also seen government funded research on subliminal effects, and showing positive results. Many such studies are now declassified and are available online. These are well-known in the Psy-Ops community, and the results are staggering and used by the U.S. and Germany to great effect as far back as WWII.
    Robert Schlesinger
    I have been licensed in patent law since 1980 and have a lifetime college-level teaching credential in several subjects, including psychology, since 1976. [California discontinued such college teaching credentials about 30 years ago.]

  29. I never said the first case or reported case of subliminals was in 1957. Such a statement is an obvious absurdity. The PsyOps community used subliminals during WWII. This is well known, long ago declassified, and easily verified. Examples of these printed items (including even subliminals in forged postage stamps and currency) are sought after by collectors and I have seen authenticated and certified examples of both allied and axis items selling for $200 to $1000. They're not that rare. Anyone proficient in the field would be well aware of this use of subliminals. There are many other examples of the military and intelligence community using a technology before it is introduced to the public – a practice I have mixed feelings about.
    Robert Schlesinger

  30. Dayum. I'm writing about subliminal messaging for my propadeutical paper and why it sometimes works, from a neuronal perspective. This background knowledge is surely going to help me. I'll definitely go through the sources you posted. Thanks SciShow Psych. Such science. Much wow. You inspire me c:

  31. they prey on human weakness. everyone thing about sex, vet food burgs, drugs, and other things that is what the play with. not with what we don't want but that what we want. and shouldn't be eating ore doing. or ad least with in sens. and not under the control and understanding of anyone but your self!

  32. Want to know who's dumb

    People who believe that those subliminal videos can actually like change your cells to like make you look completely different

  33. Ofcourae they use it, it's about the money. More ears, more eyes then more business and money. Only makes sense. The government can show us whatever they want us to know, and have been condition us since the media came out. Problem, reaction, solution

  34. Or are the studies and your show sponsored by entities that want us to think that advertisers don't employ them because they don't work in the first place?

  35. Thanks for your research… I am looking to learn more about subliminal messages issued by gov’t as well as entertainment…

  36. WAIT, how would the people studying the people in the movie theatre know they didn’t but Hershey’s 10 DAYS AFTER, they follow them!?!?!?

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