The modern science of subliminal influence

The New York Times has a great article on how our actions and decisions can be subconsciously ‘primed’ by the world around us.

Priming is a well-established effect in psychology. It describes the effect whereby encountering one thing activates related mental concepts in the mind.

Because they’ve been activated, they influence other mental processes that happen to be occurring at the same time, influencing decision making and desire, even if we’re not aware of it.

New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there‚Äôs a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” ‚Äî all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.

Psychologists say that “priming” people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives that people already have.

More fundamentally, the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.

It’s great to see this article is largely based on published experiments.

Often, experiments tell their own stories and very little is needed to make them ‘accessible’ to the public. Just a bit of light and attention.

Link to NYT article ‘Who‚Äôs Minding the Mind?’.

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