There’s been a lot of scandal surrounding the concept of subliminal messages, from their introduction to popular culture in the mid twentieth century to modern ideas about their presence in a number of major brand names and products. The idea that we might be controlled by companies or other agents by means of unnoticed items in advertisements and other forms of media is certainly a sensational one, but for the most part there’s a lack of evidence that we are quite so easily moved. There have been several studies performed on the nature and efficacy of subliminal messages, each with different pieces of wisdom to share about the possibilities of this particular form of mind-control. Recently, Martijn Veltkamp, a Dutch researcher, endeavored to add to the body of knowledge on the subject of subliminal messages with a study of his own, and the results may prove comforting for those concerned about the integrity of the mind and our relationship to it.
Veltkamp’s study showed participants a number of media items with suggestive words or comments thrown in, flashing in intervals that are generally accepted as not being long enough to enter the conscious mind. While subjects were sometimes persuaded to act by a certain message, Veltkamp found that these instances only pertained to cases where the subject wanted to act that way in the first place, or when it fulfilled a particular biological need. As an example, Veltkamp cites the tendency of a group of people shown “drinking” and “thirsty” messages to drink from a provided cup of water, but only after they’d been deprived of fluids for a while or had been trained beforehand to associate the words with positive thoughts and feelings.
The study helps to show that while subliminal messages may not be entirely useless, they are poorly understood by our popular representations, and afford only a small amount of efficacy in very controlled situations. Helping to bolster the idea that we are essentially able to direct and control our own thoughts and feelings, the study may prove helpful for the growth of psychodynamic therapies.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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