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Introduction

Subliminal messages have become a standard tactic for advertising departments to increase sales or even decrease behaviors. A highly publicized study in the 1950’s by James Vicary incorporated a subliminal message in an ad “Drink Coke, Eat Popcorn.” The net effect was an increase in sales after movies at the refreshment box.
A subliminal message is designed to affect one’s mind or behavior when the messages cannot actually be seen or heard. The self- help corner in the bookstores, CD stores, or pop-ups on internet sites contains advertisements with attention-getting phrases, such as “Stop smoking! by listening to the tape an hour a day”, “Lose weight or learn a foreign language by listening while you sleep”. Companies design these tapes for improving maladaptive behaviors, such as quit smoking, stop bedwetting, improve well-being, relieve pain, gain intimacy, develop creativity, improve athletically, or have financial success.
Is the subliminal effect an illusion or misrepresented? Some articles have reported positive results, but the authors usually describe those changes as being due to the placebo effect.
1. Definition of Subliminal Messages

The nature and usage of a subliminal message may seem to be imprecise, but literally speaking, subliminal means below threshold. A subliminal message is a visual or auditory message presenting at so fast a speed or so low an intensity that people usually cannot detect it. However, researchers have studied the effect of subliminal messages and have tried to prove the possibilities for use in therapeutic or academic fields.

2. History of Subliminal Messages

The concept of subliminal messages has been around since 1900 when the first book was published by Scripture entitled The New Psychology (Scripture, 1907). It described the basic principles of subliminal messages. After that, Knight Dunlap, an American professor of psychology, flashed an “imperceptible shadow” to subjects while showing them a Müller-Lyer illusion containing two lines with pointed arrows at both ends which create an illusion of different lengths. Dunlap claimed that the shadow influenced his subjects subliminally in their judgment of the lengths of the lines. This visual flash was the beginning of visual subliminal messages.
Some researchers applied the visual flash technique to other fields. During World War II, there was an instrument which projected pictures for an extremely brief period so that soldiers
would be trained to recognize enemy airplanes in only 1/100th of a second. Today this instrument is used to increase reading speed or to test vision. After the war, Damron at Indiana University used a tachistoscopic technique to teach football quarterbacks how to spot an open pass receiver almost automatically. Damron’s method is still being used today by collegiate and professional teams in training football players.
James Vicary, a researcher, claimed in a press release that subliminal messages had motivated movie viewers to purchase popcorn and Coca-Cola. He used a tachistoscope to project the words “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat popcorn” for 1/3000 of a second at five-second intervals during the presentation of the movie entitled Picnic. He asserted that during the test, sales of popcorn and Coke in a New Jersey theater increased 57.8 percent and 18.1 percent respectively.

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