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The use of subliminal messages – especially in advertising – has been controversial for decades. In this lesson, we define subliminal messages and discuss their validity using several examples of research conducted on the topic.

Subliminal Messages

Imagine you are in a theater, waiting for the movie to start.

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The previews begin, and, all of a sudden, you are extremely hungry! You rush to the concession stand to buy some popcorn and, thankfully, make it back in time to catch the start of the show. After the movie ends, someone in a lab coat with a clipboard comes up to you and asks if you happened to notice the words ‘eat popcorn’ on the screen during the first preview. You don’t remember seeing them, but do remember that you suddenly became very hungry when the previews began. Do you think you were the victim of subliminal advertising?The use of subliminal messages – hidden words or images that are not consciously perceived but may influence one’s attitudes and behaviors – has been controversial for decades. Although the idea of using subliminal influence in an audio recording to help lose weight or stop smoking is appealing to many, the idea of it being used to make us buy something or do something we would not otherwise do is appalling. But, do subliminal messages really work? Is subliminal advertising a valid persuasion technique, capable of changing our attitudes and even our behavior? Let’s look at the evidence gathered from research, both inside and outside of a laboratory.

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