Subliminal messages are words, images, or sounds that appear in media (whether they be television, radio, movies, ads, or music). These messages, though seen and / or heard, do not register to the brain what they actually are. Typically, these stimuli flash quickly, so individuals viewing the messages do not have time to make sense of them. Also, marketers behind the subliminal messages try to interrupt the processing by masking. For example, with audio messages, the messages get “backmasked” with other stimuli (i.e. background sounds). Instead of processing the image, word, or sound, people are said to store them in their subconscious brains.
Many studies have shown the use of subliminal messages. One individual conducted a study to see if priming or preparing participants with text or visual subliminal messages would make them more familiar with the product. Fifty percent of his participants were flashed “Lipton Ice” for 24 milliseconds on a computer screen. The others were flashed with a word that did not consist of a brand. Again, because this was a subliminal message and the image was flashed so quickly, participants did not even know about the experiment. Later those who were thirsty were asked what they wanted to drink. Guess what they wanted? Lipton Ice. The participants, who were not thirsty, had no goal to satisfy their thirst, and as a result, they wanted nothing. Johan Karremans, the experimenter here, claimed that this proved his point about subliminal messages working better when the messages were goal-relevant.
Various studies show that negative subliminal messages are more obvious than positive ones. To explain, in a research company that flashed negative, positive, and neutral words across a screen, asked individuals to identify what they saw and how confident they were, respondents accurately described 66 percent of the negative words versus 50 percent of the positive ones. This can especially be a good thing to warn individuals of danger. Using more bold and negative words will alert individuals better than neutral or positive ones.
Research psychologists argue that while primed individuals may respond to subliminal messages (i.e. like the Lipton Ice example above), the effectiveness of subliminal messages is only temporary. They believe that subliminal messages about weight loss, smoking, or music corrupting listeners really has no effect beyond placebo.
One of the legal debates behind subliminal messages is that subliminal messages seek to control people by telling them what to do and what to think about something. Others do not believe, as mentioned above, that subliminal messages have that much of an effect. In some countries, subliminal messages and advertising have been banned. However, most places allow this form of advertising to some degree.
Today, much of the entertainment industry uses subliminal advertising by flashing advertisements of companies in the background of scenes. However, when these messages / advertisements cross the line with messages about sex, drug use, or other inappropriate things, litigation issues have been known to arise.
Individuals should be aware of the type of medias they are viewing / listening to. They should consider the same for their children. If the messages are of a negative nature, then, they need to decide if said media should be viewed / listened to.