The popular history of subliminal communication is really a history of modern subliminal manipulation.
Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders, which appeared in 1957, quotes from the Sunday Times an account of a New Jersey theater in which ice cream ads were flashed onto the screen during a movie showing. That resulted in an otherwise unaccountable increase in ice cream sales. The Times referred to this technology as "subthreshold effects."
Packard's work warned of psychologists-turned-merchandisers and of the resulting psychoseduction of the American consumer. From belief systems to product identification, Packard presented a case for persuasion through the art and science of motivational analysis, feedback, and psychological manipulation. Hidden Persuaders was the first open attempt to inform the general public of a potentially Orwellian means to enslave the mind and to do so surreptitiously.
Wilson Brian Key in his books Subliminal Seduction and Clam Plate Orgy argues that not only are we being subliminally merchandised today but the public has been subliminally seduced for hundreds of years. Key, a Canadian professor, sums it all up in the title to his third book on the subject, The Age of Manipulation.
In my own work, Subliminal Communication, I discussed the earliest modern reference I have found on the subject of subliminal communication. According to Wolman, subliminal research is at least as old as Suslowa's work in 1863 wherein he reported "an increase in the two-point discrimination threshold as a function of subliminal electrical stimulation." (1973). In 1894 W.R. Dunham, M.D., wrote an interesting commentary on the subliminal mind and subliminal communication. Nearly one hundred years later, Dunham's essay reads much like current research on the subject. In The Science of Vital Force, Dunham demonstrated the existence of both subliminal mind and subliminal communication.
One of Freud's most important contributions to approaching the enigma known as the human condition is the stark revelation that mankind is a mere particle of his potential. Unconscious processes predetermine conscious choices and therefore behavior. Aggregates of attitude and behavior constitute personality. Personality is rather rigid, and consequently the human condition is an abysmal shadow of itself. What is more, according to Freud, it is inherently in conflict with itself.
A contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Dr. O. Poetzle, studied subliminal perception and the subsequent effect on dreams and behavior days and weeks after the original stimuli.
Professor Wolman's modified categorization of subliminal stimuli, divides descriptive values into five criteria of awareness and unawareness. The stimuli is:
1. Below the level of registration.
2. Above the level of registration but below the level of detection.
3. Above the level of detection but below the level of stimulus discrimination.
4. Above the level of detection and discrimination but below the level of identification.
5. Below the level of identification only because of a defensive reaction. (1973).
Wolman makes several general statements regarding subliminal stimulation, having come to certain conclusions based upon his erudite research. Although maintaining a cautious stance, he asserts:
1. Subliminal stimulus does leave an influence upon the content of subsequent cognition.
2. Subliminal stimuli has affected and can affect secondary-process thinking.
3. There are neurophysiological findings which appear to concur with registration without awareness.
4. Despite some failures of replication there are numerous instances where subliminal stimuli "can measurably influence a variety of subject's subsequent behaviors."
5. Conscious thinking can be influenced by stimulus outside of awareness.
In 1981 Dr. Norman Dixon summarized over 748 references on subliminal stimulation in his scholarly book Preconscious Processing. Dixon provides a model for understanding the flow of information and its entry to consciousness. According to his model, five factors govern whether a stimulus surfaces at a conscious level: direction of attention, signal strength, external noise level, internal noise levels, and signal importance (meaning).
The wrongful death action brought against Judas Priest and CBS recently in Reno, has led to a judicial interpretation regarding subliminal communication and 1st amendment rights. Judge Whitehead's opinion can be found in the section of this work titled Legal Status.
First amendment rights have often been at issue when the jurisprudence process becomes involved with subliminal stimuli. Current trends, however, tend to exclude subliminal communication from protection under our freedom of speech rights. The Honorable Jerry Carr Whitehead, District Judge in the State of Nevada, eloquently argues that indeed subliminal communication violates first amendment liberties when covertly or surreptitiously employed. (See Whitehead, 1989 herein).
Whatever ultimate interpretations or direction of the controversy, one thing is quite certain, "subliminals" (used here as a noun referring to the general nature of their type of communication) are here to stay.
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Acknowledgements | Forward | Introduction | The Controversy Understanding Subliminal | Subconscious Mind Power | History | Theoretical Models of Subliminal Perception | The Legal Status of Subliminal Communication in America | Remarks for the Revised Edition