subbliminal messages in music 2


Just a short note about subliminal messages placed backwards in music – a reply to your questions about what I wrote to you the other day. Hope this helps, and I’m sorry i don’t have time to write more right now.

> When I listen to an album I spend hours looping it. This means that for
> _hours_ my brain and ears will be open to sounds from it. Let’s say that our
> inconscious mind has limited skills, couldn’t it understand a simple message
> like “drink coca-cola” after being exposed to it for so long ?

The unconscious mind probably doesn’t understand anything. Most likely after hearing “drink coca-cola” this thought is more likely to come to your conscious mind, where you decide to act on it.

This, as you point out, is just like advertising and it also suggests why advertising coca-cola (which people are already disposed towards drinking) is easier than advertising behaviours people don’t already want to do (paying taxes for example).

Plus, if the message is hidden, the unconscious mind isn’t going to decode it to be influenced by it. There’s no evidence that we can understand backwards messages embedded in music, consciously or unconsciously.

> Second thing, but strictly related. What type of reactions would be caused by
> listening for hours at a simple recorded voice saying “drink coca-cola” ?
> After all, isn’t what radio and tv spots are all about (writing in our mind a
> brand names) ?

Bordom! And probably an aversion related to coca-cola because of that. But if you repeated the words “drink coca-cola” over the course of years, and with interesting visual and background music, that would make people more likely to choose a coke when given the option (which is advertising, and what happens).

Does that make sense and sound fair enough?


  1. Posted April 17, 2005 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    But aren’t priming and responses to marked stimuli examples of situations where information cannot be yielded consciously but is still ‘there’ in some sense, able to be detected via tests of implicit memory, or measures of biological change (from GSR to eye-movement to EEG)? Also, Paul Broks talks (in Into the Silent Land) about the neuropsychological implications of the rich internal landscape we encounter when we dream, and how this has the capacity to constantly surprise us, and argues a case for a much smarter unconscious than we currently address. It’s a bit speculative, but follows a nice neuropsych path and I found it quite convincing… which is not to say anything per se regarding subliminal messages in recordings, of course.

  2. Posted April 21, 2005 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Yes, this is all about implicit memory. Most tests of subliminal effects rely on behaviour (ie implicit) tests rather than explict tests (ie “yes, i saw that, and now i want a mars bar”). How the implicit relates to our conscious, deliberate behaviour (to the extent that any of our behaviour is deliberate) is a tricky one. Likewise this issue of the cognitive unconscious. Is the unconscious smart or dumb? Freud said smart, Cognitive psychology says pretty dumb. The stuff on stereotype priming (in the book, amongst other places), says that a dumb, but complex, unconscious can produce pretty smart (or seemingly smart) responses…

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