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The Use of Subliminal Auditory Stimuli in Terminally Ill Oncology Patients
(Please do not quote without permission)
©copyright 1994, Eldon Taylor, Ph.D. and Charles McCusker, Ph.D
This study sought to evaluate the use of subliminal stimuli as
an ancillary self care modality for cancer patients.
Subjects consisted of fifty adult terminally ill oncology patients.
Subliminal affirmations were written from principles
in the literature of psychoneuroimmunology and recorded at near liminal
levels on audio tape. The results of this study indicate
more research is warranted in this area. It would appear from the findings
that the tapes did have a positive effect on life expectancy and
The authors wish to express their gratitude to the Open Mind
Foundation for their support with this research.
Investigation into the effects of subliminal influence
on behavior and physiological response is not new; studies into this area
of research date back to the 19th century (Zuckerman, 1960). Subliminal
perception refers to the processing of stimuli too weak in intensity or
too brief in duration to be identified consciously (Borgeat, Boissonneault,
Chalout, & Elie (1989), and/or disguised such as in certain shadowing
tasks resulting in an "audio illusion" (Taylor, 1987 and Taylor
1993). Dixon (1971) prefers the term unconscious perception to describe
all cases when responses are governed by stimuli of which the recipient
is unaware, while the term subliminal perception is reserved
for those cases where the stimulus is below some independently determined
limen. Wolman (1973) defines the absolute threshold, or stimulus
limen, as the intensity at which a particular sound is just discriminable
from silence on a given percentage of trials.
Research into subliminal auditory stimuli has been an
area of considerable controversy and debate. Considerable evidence is
available to support the assertion that subliminal auditory stimuli
is capable of inducing behavioral and physiological change. (Dixon
& Henley, 1991, Swingle, 1991, Taylor, 1994). Meta-analysis has demonstrated
"that subliminal presentation of drive related stimuli produced significantly
stronger effects on behavior than supraliminal presentation of the same
stimuli" (Bornstein, 1990). Indeed, the meta-analytic analysis of
Hardaway's also demonstrated a reliable significance in the subliminal
presentation of the Silverman mommy messages (1990). Urban (1992)
states that the present consensus is that subliminal perception
is a real phenomenon and what is left to be resolved are questions
relating to kinds and levels of effects that can be obtained by this method.
Dixon and Henley assert:
From the results of applying subliminal stimulation
to the problems of diagnosis and therapy, three conclusions may be drawn.
First, the data support the view that the meaning of external stimuli
of which the recipient is unaware may be responded to and determine emotional
responses, lexical decisions, overt behavior, and subjective experience.
Second, they confirm the reality of psychopathology, that is, of a substrate
of emotionally colored stored information with a potential for producing
somatic symptoms and disorders of thinking, affect, and behavior. Third,
to the extent that the content of psychopathology is screened from conscious
scrutiny and therefore impervious to supraliminal information, so may
it be accessed and ameliorated by drive-related stimuli of which the subject
is not aware. (1991).
In the clinical setting, subliminal auditory stimuli has been utilized
in the realm of psychotherapy with considerable success.
Swingle (1991) reports ten years of work with subliminal auditory
stimulation in a large number of experiments and currently uses
subliminal audiotapes in conjunction with clinical treatment.
Costello and Budzinski (1991, cf. Urban, 1992), in a preliminary report
on the utilization of commercially produced subliminal audiotapes
with a clinical population, report the tape-users' scores of improvement
on several measures were significantly better than those of the control
group and were equivalent to those of the psychotherapy group.
Borgeat et al. (1989) report that auditory subliminal suggestions
can influence cardiac response to an unrelated and benign stress. Subjects,
after listening to preconscious activating suggestions passively, during
a stressing task that followed the passive listening, and after that task,
showed significant effects of the activation subliminal suggestions during
and following the stressing task. Bourgeat and Goulet (1983) report that
auditory suggestions of an intensity below the recognition threshold
influenced physiological responses: activating suggestions induced
higher heart rate and skin-conductance level than when no suggestion or
deactivating suggestions were present. Corteen and Wood (1972) in an earlier
study, associated city names with shock stimuli and then embedded these
city names in material presented to the non-attended channel in a dichotic
listening task. The shock-associated city names gave rise to a significant
number of autonomic responses even though the subjects were unaware of
them. Roche reported a significant decrease
in symptomology of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive
Disorder (1993) and this author reported a significant increase in
physiological measures associated with distress, as measured by a polygraph
instrument when the drive related subliminal audio message "danger"
was presented (1994).
Evidence thus far supports the assertion that subliminal auditory
stimuli has the potential to affect physiological processes.
To what degree is still a matter of enquiry due to the limited scope of
research that has been conducted into auditory subliminal stimuli. The
purpose of this preliminary study is to investigate the effect of positive
and affirmative auditory subliminal stimuli on the wellbeing
and life expectancy in patients with a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Specifically,
can remission rates and life expectancy in subjects with terminal cancer
be extended using subliminal auditory stimuli, and if so, to what extent?
Further, the philosophy of cognitive engineering offers
a method of altering belief. Recent research suggests that belief plays
a significant role in the outcome of disease (Phillips, 1993). The theory
behind this form of behavioral therapy is stated by Ellis
as, "by disputing irrational beliefs and replacing them with rational,
realistic, and positive statements, behavior change is effected"
(195-). He offers a simple model for understanding. The A-B-C model, as
it is called, is graphically depicted as follows:
A--------------------> B--------------> C (activating event) (belief)
(consequence: emotional & behavioral)
The authors make the supposition that by changing a belief, a method
accomplished by exposure to auditorially presented subliminal
statements that become internalized as self talk, a form of "semantic
priming", which can also be seen as a catalytic activating
event (changing the focus of the perceptual lens), a different and positively
modified interpretation of the event will result. This difference in interpretation
changes expectation which defines many emotional and behavioral responses
The theoretical application of subliminal stimuli in this study
1. certain diseases could be the result of behavioral strategies (Taylor,
1993, Rossi, 1986)
2. cancer could be aggravated by psychological factors such as stress
(Seyle, 1974, Locke and Colligan, 1986)
3. psychosocial immunocompetence conditioning factors influence wellness
and recovery (Kiecolt-Glaser et al, 1984).
4. cognitive behavioral therapy principles are implementable via subliminal
stimuli, altering belief (expectation) and resulting in a positive influence
of disease outcome (Ellis, 1988).
Cancer treatments either without proven efficacy, or
of questionable methods, have achieved new levels of popularity, particularly
among the well educated (Cassileth et al, 1991). Treatments such as macrobiotic
diets (Bowman, Kushner, Dawson, & Levin, 1984), high-dose vitamin
C (Moertel et al. (1985), immunoaugmentive therapy (Curt et al. 1986),
Laetrile (Moertel et al., 1981, 1982), as well as others have been subject
to investigation. Cassileth et al. (1991) report that for patients with
extensive disease, there are no significant difference in length of survival
between groups using conventional treatment regimens and unorthodox treatments
such as those mentioned above.
For patients diagnosed with terminal cancer (distant
metastasis at time of diagnosis and extensive disease), standard methods
of treatment (chemotherapy and radiotherapy) serve to reduce tumor size,
diminish pain, as well as delay disease progression. These treatments
are not curative for patients with a terminal diagnosis of cancer
and few other treatment options are available. Despite this,
alternative methods in the treatment of cancer have received
little support or recognition from the medical profession.
Although the rate of cure is relatively high for many cancer sites, as
with leukaemia and Hodgkin's disease (American Cancer Society, 1992),
many disease sites remain incurable. Of note, 258,000 people in the U.S.
died of cancer in 1988 (American Cancer Society, 1992). For these reasons
alone, it makes sense to explore and research alternative treatment
methods that have the potential to generate improved
remission rates in the treatment of cancer, in conjunction with
In this preliminary study, the efficacy of using subliminal auditory
perception in the treatment and control of oncology patients with
incurable disease is investigated. Since this is a preliminary study,
stringent controls were not always possible. Despite this limitation,
this study indicates that the use of positive, self affirming
messages delivered to terminal oncology patients using an auditory subliminal
medium can lengthen life expectancy and improve quality of life.
Fifty males and females over the age of fifty and diagnosed with
terminal cancer (defined as extensive disease with distant metastasis)
were recruited through professional cancer clinics and support groups
in seven states. Ten subjects were lost due to non-deliverable addresses,
nine were not seen for follow-up, one subject's physician was ill and
unable to complete the questionnaire, and no response was received from
thirteen subjects' physicians. Of the seventeen subjects remaining, three
were not included in the study because they were HIV positive, leaving
a total subject population of fourteen.
Subjects were provided with a subliminal program entitled Cancer
Remission. The messages were recorded using the "Taylor
method" (Kruse, 1992), applying simultaneous information
of both forward and reverse speech. Messages were delivered
within the band width of music slightly beneath the music's outer edge
peak volume. Subjects were instructed to use the tapes with their home
stereo equipment or portable cassette players.
Design and Procedure
During a three and a half year period, tapes were made available to subjects
only with the consent of their primary physician. Subjects were advised
to use the tape as often as possible, including during sleep. Subjects
were assured that there would be no adverse effects from using the tapes.
Questionnaires were sent to each subject's physician two to four years
after the subjects had received the subliminal program.
The questionnaire consisted of twelve questions that were rated on a five
point scale: 1, strongly disagree; 2, disagree; 3, neutral; 4, agree;
and 5, strongly agree. The twelve questions consisted of four general
categories: A, the patient's attitude toward their disease before they
used the program; B, the patient's attitude toward their disease after
they used the program; C, the patient's survival and quality of life;
and D, the physician's perception concerning their patient's belief that
health can be positively effected by the mind.
Statistics for survival time in patients with terminal cancer
(distant metastasis at time of diagnosis) from the American
Cancer Society is available only for specific sites in relation
to five year survival. No statistic for an overall survival rate for patients
with terminal diagnoses is available. For this reason, it was
not possible to compare the mean survival in months for the subjects in
this study against the mean survival rate in months for the national average.
Also, prognosis and mean survival time varies depending on the extent
of metastasis at time of diagnosis and the primary site of the disease.
At the conclusion of this study, which lasted 42 months, six
subjects were living and eight were dead. Of those patients who died,
they lived an average of 15 months longer than the original diagnosis
would have indicated.
For the six subjects that were living at the completion of the study,
all of the physicians strongly agreed that the mind or attitude
of the patient is relevant to their health, with the exception
of one physician who did not respond to this question. In the group of
patients who were dead at the completion of the study, the physicians
responses were as follows: four strongly agreed that the mind or attitude
of the patient was relevant to the patient's health, three agreed and
one was neutral.
For the subject group that was alive at the completion of the study,
two physicians strongly agreed that the subliminal program served
a valuable function for the patient, three agreed and one did
not respond. For the group that was dead at the end of the study, five
physicians were neutral to whether they felt the program served a valuable
function for their patient, two strongly agreed and one agreed that the
program served a valuable function for their patient.
Since this is a preliminary study and no previous studies are available
in which to compare the efficacy of the use of audio subliminal
technology in the treatment of cancer or other disease states,
it is difficult to make definitive assertions on the usefulness or overall
effects of this technology in the treatment or control of terminal
cancer. However, the results of this study strongly suggest that
further investigation is warranted. If the data from the study is evaluated
from the perspective of simple percentages, some interesting and provocative
implications emerge. Of fourteen subjects terminally ill with
cancer, 43% were reported as in remission. For every
neutral or negative response from physicians to question 11 "I believe
that the mind or attitude of the patient is relevant to their health and/or
health care", there is a deceased patient. This suggests
the importance of a positive physician attitude. Indeed,
the expectation of the physician has been linked to patient outcome in
at least one other study. (Phillips, 1994).
The results of this study suggests that the subliminal cancer
tapes provided to the fourteen subjects did have an effect with
some increase in life expectancy of the subjects in this study, as well
as the quality of life these patients experienced. It is impossible at
this point to ascertain whether other variables may also have played a
role, such as physicians care, type of cancer experienced, or the will
of the patient themselves. Of interest, for the group of subjects alive
at the end of the study, is the fact that these subjects' physicians overall
had a higher agreement level that the tape was of value to their patients,
and had a higher level of belief that the mind or attitude of
the patient plays a significant role in their health. Overall
averages at the time subjects entered into the study did not differ significantly
between the two groups, meaning that subjects in one group did not enter
closer to the beginning or the end than the other group. Future studies
assessing the effects of subliminal technology on the remission
rates of subjects with a terminal diagnosis of cancer will need
to employ tighter controls, limiting the number of confounding variables
such as length of time the tapes are actually used, primary site of disease,
extent of metastasis as determined through CAT scans, MRI's, and other
definitive medical tests, as well as more in depth demographic information.
No records were kept regarding the amount of time subjects actually listened
to the tapes (i.e. number of hours per day). For this reason, it was not
possible to assess whether the actual amount of listening time was a significant
factor in remission rate and response.
It is well documented that prognosis in cancer patients will
vary significantly depending on the primary site of the disease, stage,
number of nodes involved, and the extent of metastasis that has occurred
at time of diagnosis (American Cancer Society, 1992). In this
study, no records of site, stage and extent of metastasis were considered.
For this reason, it is possible that the subjects who lived longer
had less disease than those patients who were dead at the time the collection
of data was completed. In future studies, a more homogenous and
larger sample would be of benefit in relation to site of disease. Using
subjects with a more similar disease state would eliminate a number of
As well, expected prognosis or life expectancy for subjects was determined
by their physicians and no standard criterion was used. Bias on the part
of the individual physicians toward their patient due to coping styles,
attitude, response to treatment, and/or other variables may have affected
the prognosis physicians gave their patients. For example, a patient
with a positive attitude toward their disease may have been given a longer
prognosis than a patient with a negative attitude toward their patient's
disease, independent of other criterion such as disease state.
No control nor placebo groups were utilized in this study. In future
studies control and placebo groups could be implemented.
From the results of this preliminary study, it appears evident that subliminal
auditory stimuli is likely to be of benefit to patients with a terminal
diagnosis of cancer. Since this is a preliminary study, future
investigation into this area is needed to obtain more concrete results.
Since medicine at present offers little in the way of treatment to a large
number of these terminal patients, it makes sense to pursue any area of
investigation that promises some hope to these people, especially in terms
of positive outcome and cost effectiveness.
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