The question is: Are subliminals scientifically proven to work?
Yes, in this post, we go over a notable experiment that used subliminal imagery and proved that subliminals could be used to create associations in the brain, making it easier for the subject to respond (and assumedly approve) of the subliminal material if it were ever presented clearly and explicitly. This can also reflect how useful audio subliminals can be for self-hypnosis and achieving personal goals.
History of Subliminal Science
Everyone is familiar with the concept of subliminal messaging. But how effective is it really? Recent findings from the laboratory of Valentin Dragoi at the University of Texas at Houston reveal that subliminal pictures can drastically affect our brains’ activity levels and behavior.
What does subliminal messaging entail? Words or pictures delivered below our conscious awareness can be considered subliminal messages. We often think of discrete images shown in a video. The subliminal images flash on the screen so rapidly (typically in less than one-tenth of a second!) that our brains cannot recognize their presence.
In the 1950s, researchers carried out an experiment that is now considered one of the most prominent examples of subliminal transmission. A movie theater was used to conduct an experiment to determine whether or not subliminal messages had the ability to influence people’s behavior. During the movie, brief messages were played that stated, “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat Popcorn.” The researcher, James Vicary, made the claim that delivering these suggestive messages improved concession sales.
Do we react to messages that are subconsciously presented to us? Luckily, brainwashing is not something that the use of subliminal messages can accomplish. On the other hand, studies on rats dating back to the 1960s imply that displaying subliminal pictures increases behavioral performance.
Even though the shift in behavior has been demonstrated in several articles, we still do not understand how the brain processes pictures presented in a subliminal form.
In the laboratory of Valentin Dragoi, a researcher by the name of Sorin Pojoga set out to investigate the neurological mechanisms behind the effects of subliminal pictures and how these changes in brain activity influence our actions. Pojoga and colleagues created an experiment involving an animal that would subliminally expose rhesus macaques in a series of pictures while recording neuron activity in the primary visual cortex.
The natural pictures, such as a snapshot of an animal, were embedded in an oriented grating for two or five consecutive frames, with a time interval of either 33.3 or 83.3 milliseconds. The researchers discovered that the individuals had no trouble recognizing the image even after it had been embedded for five frames. However, when the pictures were shown to the participants for two frames, the subjects could only predict the right image sometimes. This indicates that the images were below the subjects’ threshold for detection, making them subliminal.
The Brain Can Pick Up Subliminal Images
This section goes over how an experiment done on animals shows that even when an image is shown for a very brief, practically undetectable, length of time, the brain still manages to pick up the image and fire off neurons.
The authors discovered they could deliver visuals at a level undetectable to the conscious mind. But it is still unknown whether the brain records these visuals and how it does so. In a subsequent experiment, the participants completed activities to determine whether or not changes in brain activity or behavioral performance were brought about by introducing subliminal images.
Once more, animals maintained their attention on a central spot on the computer screen while an aligned grating was displayed. During each trial, there was a time at which a different natural picture was substituted for the oriented grating for a duration of two consecutive frames. Then, the realistic picture was shown either in its original form or rotated between 5 and 20 degrees. The trials could then be aligned according to the time the subliminal natural picture was displayed, and the data could be analyzed for any changes in brain activity.
To decipher the brain responses to the natural pictures, Pojoga utilized a linear discriminant analysis, often known as LDA. LDA is a model for supervised learning that tries to categorize data into various categories. In this particular investigation, the researchers investigated whether or not the LDA could differentiate across trials according to the direction from which the natural picture was seen. First, they “trained” the model by “inputting” firing rates from when the realistic picture was presented and then “tested” the model by coupling firing rates with the right image orientation for ninety percent of the trials. Then, after the model had been trained, the researchers tested it by feeding it the firing rates from the remaining 10% of trials and allowing the model to classify the trials based on the orientation of the images they contained.
They discovered that LDA performance was much greater than the level expected, which indicates that the neurons stored the orientation of the natural picture. In addition, the researchers computed the LDA for a section of the trial in which the subliminal picture was not given. They discovered that the LDA performance during this trial period was not significantly different from levels expected by chance. This investigation further supports the finding that neurons were processing the pictures.
What Subliminals Can Accomplish
This section goes over how an animal that has been “primed” (exposed to a subliminal image) will be more responsive to the same image when it is blatantly shown. When you consider that animals who weren’t primed were less responsive to the blatant image than the primed animals, you can conclude that “priming” will lead to a stronger response because the brain has already been exposed to the given image (albeit subliminally). Socially, this can influence a person to be more accepting of a subliminal suggestion long before the message becomes explicitly clear.
The scientists reasoned that since there is evidence to suggest that neurons are somehow processing the implanted pictures, processing subliminal images should have some purpose. Therefore, they conducted a further experiment to determine whether or not pictures that had been shown in a subliminal state earlier would subsequently improve brain processing when they were shown in a supraliminal state.
The participants were given an orientation discrimination exercise to complete. While animals focused their attention on the location in the middle of a computer screen, a picture of nature was displayed around the edges of the screen. The picture was replayed after a short break in the action. The participants were required to indicate with a response lever whether both pictures were presented in the same orientation or if the second image was presented at an angle (when the images were different, animals were trained to release the lever, but when the images were the same, subjects were expected to continue holding the lever). Notably, fifty percent of the natural images utilized in this test were brand new. The other fifty percent were natural images displayed subliminally in the prior fixation experiment (described above). The term “exposed” stimuli refer to the natural visuals that were first delivered subliminally and are now presented in a supraliminal manner within the context of the discrimination task.
Through mutual information analysis, the scientists concluded that neurons can glean more information from exposed stimuli than unexposed stimuli. In addition, they employed d’ analysis, which led them to conclude that neurons are more responsive to stimuli that are exposed to them.
In a manner analogous to the LDA that was carried out during the two-frame display of the natural picture, the researchers discovered that LDA performance during the orientation discrimination test was far beyond the level expected by chance. In addition, the group observed that LDA performance was much greater for exposed natural photos compared to unexposed stimuli, which was in line with their prediction.
These findings, taken as a whole, lend credence to the hypothesis that “subliminal priming,” in which pictures are shown subliminally in advance, paves the way for superior visual processing when those stimuli are later rendered supraliminal.
After several investigations, it has become abundantly evident that single neurons demonstrate superior picture processing for exposed images compared to unexposed images. But how can that occur if we aren’t consciously aware that we’re first looking at the visuals? The authors contend that continuous exposure to subliminal stimuli leads to the simultaneous activation of many groups of cells. According to an old medical proverb, “cells that fire together, wire together.” Therefore, subliminally stimulating might promote communication between neurons by activating groups of neurons concurrently.
Computing cross correlograms allowed Pojoga and his colleagues to quantify the connection between individual cells. This investigation measures the timing of spikes between two different cells. The greater the number of spikes that occur simultaneously, the tighter the connection between those two neurons. The researchers had the working hypothesis that there would be a more coincident activity for exposed pictures, which would indicate an increase in the amount of signaling between cells.
The research team discovered that strong cross correlograms may be generated from exposed and unexposed natural photos; however, the cross correlograms generated from exposed images were much higher than those generated from unexposed images. This lends credence to the hypothesis that frequent subliminal stimulation of natural pictures enhances communication between groups of cells, enhancing their capacity to signal the image when presented in a supraliminal context.
Are Subliminals Scientifically Proven to Work?
The researchers performed the identical discriminating test described before and then simply calculated the proportion of accurate responses across all orientations for images that were exposed as opposed to those that were not exposed. They observed that animals had dramatically improved performance in tests when exposed photos were used. In addition, this enhancement for exposed stimuli was maintained across all orientations. Performance was better for exposed photos as opposed to unexposed images when it came to low-orientation-change trials, which are the ones that are the most difficult for the animal to do right. This shows that changes in stimulus encoding at the level of a single neuron or an entire network are powerful enough to modify perception.
The authors discovered further data that supported the changes in behavior as well. For example, the shorter time it took animals to respond to the stimuli shown suggests a higher level of confidence in the judgments they made. In addition, they discovered that behavioral performance had a strong correlation with higher coincident spikes, which they quantified using cross-correlograms. This finding lends credence to the theory that enhanced behavior results from greater communication between neurons.
Am I a victim of brainwashing? No is the simple answer to this question.
This research demonstrates that engaging in subliminal images can significantly change brain activity and behavior. For example, a vehicle business flashes a subliminal message saying, “Buy this car,” which does not indicate that you would immediately drive to a dealership to make an exorbitant purchase after seeing the message.
Some authorities maintain that for subliminal messaging to be effective, it must be “goal-relevant” to the recipient. For example, it is impossible to induce thirst by displaying a subliminal message that says, “Drink Coca-Cola.” On the other hand, if you are already thirsty when you see the same subliminal message, and you are already thirsty when you see the same subliminal message, you are more likely to purchase the advised brand. Because of the potential for this impact, several nations have made it illegal to use subliminal messaging in advertising.
We may go about our days without seeing the subliminal signals around us. This new study illustrates how behavioral changes occur on both the level of a single neuron and a network. Previous studies over the years have revealed that subliminal messaging might affect our decisions; however, this new study explains how these changes occur.
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