I recently had the absolute pleasure of watching Rob Long present some of his brilliant ideas. He had a series of little tricks and games that showed how easily our minds can be influenced by what we continuously see and hear, even if it is rather subtle or even subliminal. Try the one he has suggested at the end of the article – ENJOY:
Subliminal and Subconscious Influence
We went on a week holiday recently and bought a new game called Logo. Logo is like Trivial Pursuit but is all about products, brands, marketing and advertising. Kind of like Gruen Transfer with cards and a board. The object of the game is to name various logos, brands and products, and details about them. What is amazing is how much everyone knew about so much trivial stuff, even a corner of a brand name or logo with half of the picture missing brought out an immediate ‘Oh that’s Ovaltine”. How did all this information get in there?
In 1957 a market researcher James Vicary announced results of what he deemed a remarkable experiment. He had ‘proved’ that subliminal stimuli exerted a powerful influence on people’s behaviour, particularly in relation to buying and shopping. Vicary claimed that movie goers had been bombarded with subliminal messages while they watched films and claimed an 58% increase in purchases of popcorn and drinks following his experiments. Word about the experiment raged across the air waves. In the years following some researchers surveyed the general public and found that 40% of the entire population had heard of the Vicary story. Wow, just imaging how behaviour could be managed through subliminal messages. It seems even without the internet things were able to ‘go viral’.
In 1958 DeFleur and Petranoff from Indiana University decided to test the claims of Vicary and set up an experiment with WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis to see if subliminal messaging claims by Vicary could be matched. Throughout the year anyone watching WTTV Channel 4 were bombarded with messages subliminally to watch a certain TV program and to buy more bacon. The experiment shows that people and their behaviour could not be controlled by hidden messages because viewing habits and bacon purchases didn’t change in Indianapolis that year following their experiments. So, why such a difference in experiments and results? In 1962 there came an answer, Vicary was interviewed and stated that his experiment was not fact but fiction. However, he introduced a new word into the language ‘urban legend’.
A search on YouTube for Subliminal Messages or Backmasking shows that there is a great deal of interest in the idea, especially by fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists. The energy of fear always seems to have an appeal to some who believe only they know the truth. Everything from finding the Illuminati in a folded $20 bill to subliminal messages in political campaign ads or evil messages in rock music, it’s all there.
The idea that people can be influenced by subliminal messages has been tested many times and there is no empirical evidence to show that it has much influence. I didn’t become a mass murderer by listening to Stairway to Heaven or Hotel California a thousand times. There is however a wealth of evidence to show that many of the messages that bombard us every day, get into out heads. They not only get into out heads but can be extracted from our subconscious with a board game like Logo. Unfortunately, this applies for good and bad messages. It’s why we are careful about what we say around young children, we know what she just said was a repeat of dad’s favourite phrase.
There is evidence too that auto-suggestion, ‘framing’ and ‘priming’ of language can be quite powerful. Auto-suggestion is not hidden like the claims of subliminal messaging but is covert in the overt messages of the communicator. Rather than hide the word ‘sex’ in an ad to make people more aroused, the advertisers have discovered that sometimes something less obvious and in the periphery is very powerful. Sometimes suggestion is more powerful than over messages. It’s why your most powerful risk and safety messages should be on the back of the toilet door to cover up the graffiti.
Experiments by John Bargh at New York University and published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, show that people’s pace of travel can be influenced by spending more time thinking about certain words (eg. wrinkled, gray, old, slow) than other disassociated words (eg. book, clock, tree, young). Studies by Slovic, Plous and experts in Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) show that ‘framing’ and ‘priming’ of language is highly influential in modifying or affecting behaviour. Language that is masculine or repeated phrases such as ‘get the job done’, ‘can do’, ‘zero harm’ and ‘common sense’ all have an influence on how people in the workplace view risk and safety. It’s just that these are the wrong words and ideas that are getting in. Messages do matter.
So here is an experiment for you to try in your workplace this week. Think of a word or phrase you never use and start using it on Monday next week and use it often. For example: use the words ‘that’s really consolidated’ when a good idea is brought up, or say ‘super’ when something is done well. Make sure it’s a word you never use. Then see how many days it takes before the phrase gets repeated back to you.