Subliminals always work faster

Subliminal text messages - a comparison of effects between adults and children

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Theoretical background
2.1. Masked messages
2.2. Experiments on subliminal visual perception
2.2.1. Visual stimuli
2.2.2. The Coca-Cola experiment
2.3. Subliminal acoustic perception: backmasking and subliminal messages

3. Research question and hypotheses

4. The experiment
4.1. Musical stimuli
4.1.1. Manufacturing
4.1.2. Masking the message
4.2. execution
4.3. Experiment with adults
4.3.1. Results Word list Choice of drinks
4.3.2. conclusion
4.4. Experiment with children
4.4.1. Results Word list Choice of drinks
4.4.2. Conclusions

5. Comparison between the two groups of subjects
5.1. Word list
5.2. Choice of drinks

6. Discussion

7. Summary

8. Literature

9. Appendix
9.1. Questionnaire for adults
9.2. Questionnaire children
9.3. Experimental design adults
9.4. Experimental design children

1 Introduction

The question of whether people can be influenced by subliminal messages is not only of concern to science. The advertising industry in particular would be interested in increasing sales figures through subliminal messages in their advertising. The music industry also allegedly uses such messages in various songs. In the film "Josy and the Pussycats" subliminal messages are spread through the songs of a girl group. This drives listeners to buy certain products.

A group of students from the Hanover University of Music and Drama, together with their professor, carried out an experiment with self-made stimuli to test whether subliminal messages in music can have such an effect. We were also interested in whether there is a difference in effectiveness between adults and children.

2. Theoretical background

2.1. Masked messages

Masked messages can come in two different forms: auditory or visual. It must always be ensured that these messages are deliberately not allowed to be perceived. A masking of auditory messages can be done e.g. by superimposing other acoustic signals. When it comes to visual messages, science generally tries to keep the length of the presentation of the stimulus as short as possible.

2.2. Experiments on subliminal visual perception

There are numerous experiments that have dealt with subliminal messages. I would like to introduce two here, the first to credit the work of serious scientists, the second to draw attention to the effect of imposing but falsified experiments.

2.2.1. Visual stimuli

An experiment by French scientists investigated whether visual subliminal messages can be perceived by the brain at all. The test subjects received a visual stimulus. This was between 20 and 40 milliseconds long. Before and after this stimulus, the test subjects only saw a geometric pattern, so that conscious perception is not possible.

In this experiment, the test subjects should determine whether a number between 1 and 9 shown to them is greater or less than 5 and determine this as quickly as possible at the push of a button.

The result showed that the test subjects had a different reaction time if they had already been shown a number as a stimulus, as described above, shortly beforehand. If both numbers were greater or less than 5, the measured reaction time was faster; if the numbers were not congruent, the test subject needed a little longer.[1]

2.2.2. The Coca-Cola experiment

In 1957, James Vicary conducted the following experiment at a movie theater in Fort Lee, NJ. With subliminal commands like “Drink Coca-Cola!”, Which he threw onto the screen every 5 seconds with a special projector for 1/3000 of a second, the Coca-Cola consumption of the moviegoers could be increased by 18.1 percent. The consumption of popcorn even increased by 57.5 percent.

Unfortunately it was not possible to reproduce Vicary's experiment. Five years after the experiment, Vicary was forced to admit that he had falsified the data.[2]

2.3. Subliminal acoustic perception: backmasking and subliminal messages

Since the mid-1980s, various theories have been circulating about messages played backwards in pieces of music that are not consciously perceived by the listener and can change the listener's behavior.[3]

Some rock groups even admit that they included messages like this in their songs. For example, on the track “Another One Bites the Dust” by “Queen” you can hear the message “Start smoking marijuana” if you play it backwards. However, it has not been proven whether this has an effect on the listener who does not know anything about the message.

The public discussion culminated in a lawsuit against the heavy metal band Judas Priest and their record company. They were accused of causing the suicide or attempted suicide of two American youths through backward-playing messages of satanic content. "The indictment was rejected due to a lack of scientific evidence of the effect of the audio-technically verifiable passages."[4]

An experiment by Thorne and Himelstein (1984), in which the test subjects were played such pieces, showed that test subjects with the knowledge of the existence of and the content of the messages can hear significantly more messages correctly than a control group without this knowledge. The control group didn't even hear 10% of the messages.[5]

3. Research question and hypothesis

So it is possible to retain and process visual subliminal messages for a short time. But does this also work with auditory messages? Can you use subliminal commands to get a person to do something? Will we all soon buy a certain product because advertising uses subliminal messages for it? Is there an influencing of thoughts or even an influencing of behavior through subliminal messages in music?

According to Vicary's failed experiment and the trial of Judas Priest, we have made the following hypothesis:

It is not possible to influence thoughts or behavior through subliminal messages in pieces of music.

4. The experiment

The idea for this experiment arose in a seminar on "Music and Manipulation" with Prof. Reinhard Copyz at HMTH. Four students have agreed to prepare and carry out the event.

4.1. Musical stimuli

4.1.1. Manufacturing

With the help of a computer we created two pieces of music that are very different in character. Nevertheless, both are structured as simply as possible so that no rhythmic or melodic extravagances grab the listener's attention. Both pieces have no vocals so that a text cannot have any influence. The spoken subliminal message that we worked into the pieces is different in each case. To distinguish the otherwise nameless pieces, the names of the two runs of the experiment should be used: "Word list" and "Choice of drinks". The meaning of the names will be explained in more detail later.

The spoken messages each consist of one word and are not played backwards, i.e. forwards. We decided to use the normal direction of speech because we were of the opinion that with subliminal messages an effect should first emerge with forward spoken messages. Otherwise we would have had another variable that could have an influence on the result.

4.1.2. Masking the message

So that you can't consciously hear the spoken messages from the outset, we recorded the message more quietly than the rest of the track. We followed a study by Zwicker and Feldtkeller, which states that the message is masked when it is about 10dB quieter than the track.[6]

As shown in Figures 1 & 2, the messages were played below the volume of the track, so that the text does not sound louder than the music. The green curve in Figure 1 represents the “word list” without a message, the red curve the message. In Figure 2 for “choice of drinks” the red curve is the music track, the black curve is the message. Both graphics show the duration of the respective track on the x-axis and the volume in dB (A) on the y-axis.

Figure 1: Volume curves of the example "word list" (in dB (A))

Figure not included in this excerpt

Figure 2: Volume curves of the example "Beverage selection" (in dB (A))

Figure not included in this excerpt

Both graphics clearly show that the volume of the message is always well below the volume of the track, so that the message is masked subliminally. As a result, a conscious perception cannot take place. The message can - if at all - only have a subliminal effect.

However, it can also be the case that the message is louder than the music track in certain frequencies and can therefore be heard. The next two graphics are intended to refute this.


[1] See Naccache and Dehaene, p. 52

[2] See Schneider, pp. 145-148

[3] See Ott

[4] Ott

[5] See Ott

[6] See Zwicker & Feldtkeller, pp. 162-165

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