Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Subliminal nude pictures focus attention

Scientific American is running an interesting article on subliminal messaging -- images that are displayed in such a way that you don't consciously perceive them, but still register with you subconsciously. While most common examples of subliminal messaging use a moving frames example -- e.g. of the 24 frames that make up one second of motion in a film, one of those frames would be replaced with a subliminal message (which would be displayed for 1/24th of a second) -- the researchers in this experiment used a different kind of display to take advantage of a quirk in the way we process visual information. From the article:

Cognitive neuroscientist Sheng He of the University of Minnesota and his colleagues gathered groups of heterosexual men, heterosexual women, homosexual men and bisexual women numbering 10 each. Each viewed special images pointed directly at each individual eye. The researchers could cancel out vision of one eye's image by presenting a specific high contrast image to the other eye. Such an image, called a Gabor patch, consists of a series of contrasting lines that form an abstract--and visually arresting--shape. "Normally, the two eyes look at the same image. They don’t have any conflict," he explains. "We create a situation where the two eyes are presented with two images, and then they will have binocular competition. One image is high contrast [and dynamic], the other is static. You basically just see the dynamic image."

Into the canceled out image slot, the researchers slipped an erotic image; for example, a naked woman displayed for a heterosexual man. To ensure that subjects did not consciously detect the invisible image, they were asked to press a specific key if they noticed any difference between the left and right images. Over the course of 32 trials, men were significantly better at detecting the orientation of Gabor patches when they appeared in the slot formerly occupied by an invisible image of a nude woman.
The researchers found that men and women responded differently, as did homosexuals and heterosexuals, but the most interesting finding was that men were significantly better at accurately identifying a symbol after being "primed" with an erotic image that matched their sexual orientation.

Bottom line: sex sells, and while this particular form of subliminal messaging isn't likely to find a home in at-retail advertising any time soon (the rig requires you to focus your eyes on two different images at once), I'm willing to bet that it will rekindle interest in other forms of subliminal advertising. It's also worth noting that while numerous experiments have verified that we can perceive many things without consciously registering them, there have been no verified cases of a successful subliminal advertising campaign (though there have been reported cases of unsuccessful ones).

Tags: subliminal messaging, advertising

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