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Do Subliminal Messages Really Work?

By Jacob Queen
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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Most experts agree that subliminal messages have some level of effect, but not under all circumstances, and not for all purposes. Studies have shown that simple subliminal techniques have the potential to motivate people in small ways to do things that have some biological necessity, or things that are strongly associated with positivity. Experts generally agree that these effects are very temporary and not necessarily all that potent, but there are some who feel that subliminal have more potential. Products exist with built-in subliminal messages that claim to help people solve life problems, including things like overeating and various social disorders, but the effectiveness of this kind of subliminal methodology is not necessarily accepted by most scientists.

The concept of subliminal messages has been around in one form or another form more than 100 years, and some would argue that the early Greeks had a version of the concept with their ideas about persuasive rhetoric. The general idea is that people can be more easily persuaded to do things if a message is directed straight towards their subconscious minds. This is because many experts believed that the subconscious mind lacked the ability to make logical decisions, so in theory, anything directed towards the subconscious without the logical filters of the conscious mind might potentially be accepted without critical judgment.

There have been several approaches to delivering subliminal messages, from flashing quick images during movies, to creating sound recordings with messages delivered outside of a person’s normal hearing range. Theoretically, these messages are understood by the brain even though a person’s conscious mind doesn’t pick up on them. In practice, the effectiveness of these methods has been studied extensively, and the results have been somewhat mixed.

The most recent research suggests that it is generally impossible to make someone do something that he or she doesn’t really want to do with subliminal messages. Overall, the subliminal approach seems to work much better when it is simply reminding people about something they already want to do anyway. For example, if people are already thirsty, subliminal messages might be able to remind them that they have a thirst, causing them to act on their urge more quickly, and it might be possible to use subliminal messages to associate a particular beverage with that thirst, as long as the person doesn’t already have a negative feeling about it. Experts believe that these effects generally cause a short-term boost in behaviors, which would mean that things like subliminal audio recordings that purport to help people overcome life problems may not be that effective.

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Discussion Comments

By anon292204 — On Sep 18, 2012

Can someone do this to someone else while they are sleeping, kind of like being hypnotized, where a certain word or sound could completely change them?

By anon242377 — On Jan 23, 2012

I was wondering about this. Thanks for pointing out the truth.

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