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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day 433: Subliminal Messages

This is a continuation from my previous posts, starting here - please read for context.

Not only can classical conditioning contribute to shaping our attitudes as we saw in the child's example, but often we may not be aware of the stimuli that affects the conditioning. For instance, in one experiment (Krosnick, Betz, Jussim, & Lynnm 1992), students were shown photos of a stranger engaged in routine daily activities, such as shopping in a grocery store or walking into her apartment. While viewing these photos, other pictures associated with either positive or negative feelings were exposed for brief periods of time - so brief that participants were not aware of their presence. Participants who were nonconsciously exposed to photos that induced positive feelings (eg, a newlywed couple, people playing cards and laughing) liked the stranger better that participants who had been exposed to photos that nonconsciously induced negative feelings (eg, open-heart surgery, a werewolf). Even though participants were not consciously aware that they had been exposed to the second group of photos while viewing the stranger, the photos did significantly influence the attitudes that were formed toward the stranger. Those exposed to the positive photos reported more favourable attitudes toward the person than those exposed to the negative photos. These findings suggest that attitudes can be influenced by subliminal conditioning - classical conditioning that occurs in the absence of conscious awareness of the stimuli involved. 
Indeed, mere exposure - having seen an object before, but not remembering having seen it - can result in attitude formation. In fact, the effects of mere exposure on attitudes are stronger when the stimuli are presented subliminally compared to when they are consciously perceived (Bornstein & D'Agostino, 1992). Conscious memory for the stimuli is definitely not required; patients with advanced Alzheimer's disease, who therefore cannot remember the stimuli, show evidence of having formed new attitudes as a result of mere exposure (Winograd, Goldsteing, Monarch, Peluso, & Goldman, 1999). - Social Psychology (Twelfth Edition) - Robert A Baron, Nyla R Branscombe & Donn Byrne

Would you know if you were receiving subliminal messages? I mean, let's forget about the whole classical conditioning thing in terms of how adverts and, pretty much everything else, is designed to turn us into the perfect consumers who laugh and cry at all the appropriate moments, and look at only the subliminal messaging thing. If our attitudes can be influenced by pictures that flash so fast that we don't realise they're there, then how do we know that who we are, the choices we make, the things we like and dislike - are actually our own and not just some code that's been programmed into us?

This is nothing new - wars were waged with propaganda and subliminal (and not so subliminal) messages as well as with guns and bombs. It's been going on for decades - and we still haven't caught on. Maybe we have been developed into a state of perfection - prefect consumers. We do not question, we simply accept. We do not question the strange fashions and fads that sweep through our society, we brush it off as a "fact of life". We do not question the genocide of animals on a daily basis to continue supplying us with our meat-rich diets, we just eat. We do not question our obscene obsession with love and romance, to the point of ignoring everything else, we simply let go and fall - in love - again, and again, and again. We do not question our obsession with appearances, beauty and cosmetics; we simply try to fit in.

It's no wonder that we spend our lives trying to "find ourselves" - our nature is now completely dependent on what the current brain control directs us to be. We live our lives searching for ourselves within these obsessions in petty and superficial crap - "who am I?", "where do I belong?", "who will love me?", "maybe if I change my hair colour I will be happier".

We wouldn't know how to make our own choices, completely independently, if our lives depended on it. Who would we be without all of the garbage that gets pumped into us? Most of us would just be empty shells, having no substance without all of our romantic notions, fashion magazines, dramas and gossiping. Take a good, hard look at yourself - who are you? Are you defined by the choices you make in terms of what you see as being what is best, or are you defined by all the ideas and beliefs of what life should be like? Can we claim to have free choice if we only choose that which we blindly accept as "life"?

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