Middle school was the first time I was exposed to subliminal messaging; it was a concept that blew the underdeveloped minds of my class and me. The fact our minds could process information and create new ideas without our conscious mind is a scary thing. Could this eliminate the concept of free will altogether? A study was done to test just this.
In this study, subjects were subliminally flashed a letter. Their conscious mind had no idea that the letter had even been stimulated in their subconscious mind. Next, a set of different letters were set in front of the subject and they were asked to choose a letter at random. In this case, the letter that was flashed was almost exclusively chosen from the random set, proving the subconscious holds weight in executing simple tasks. What the experimenters found next was the interesting part. They repeated the experiment but made it more mentally taxing for the subjects. The increased level of concentration hindered the minds ability to receive subliminal messages. For example, the subjects were distracted while a colored letter was flashed subliminally on a screen in front of them. The fMRI scans revealed no neurological activity in the brain during the subliminal stimulus which led the scientists to conclude, "the brain does not pick up on subliminal stimuli if it is too busily occupied with other things... some degree of attention is needed for even the subconscious to pick up on subliminal images" (Science Daily).
This finding made me curious about subliminal messaging in the commercial media. Is brand recognition too much for the subconscious to process? Especially when our whole attention isn't focused on the commercial? It would be a scary thing if corporations could take away our free will in terms of purchasing their product. If they found a way to simplify the message enough to target our subconscious, our conscious ability to choose could be eliminated altogether. I don't know about you, but this idea scares me a lot.
University College London (2007, March 9). Subliminal Advertising Leaves Its Mark On The Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 9, 2011