Subliminal messages have been an area of interest especially with the discovery of the great decision and behavior influencing effects they have when properly used.
A subliminal stimulus is what makes the initial phase of the powerful effect of subliminal messages.
Let’s take a look at what a subliminal stimulus is and all you need to know about it.
What is a Subliminal Stimulus
A subliminal stimulus is a form of stimulation that is below the threshold of perception or below the absolute threshold.
This means that the stimulation presented to a person is so toned down that the person cannot perceive it with their conscious mind.
However, the fact that they didn’t get to consciously detect the stimulation, it doesn’t mean that their whole mind didn’t make the detection.
On the contrary, the conscious mind may not have detected it but the subconscious mind did discern the stimulation.
That is why subliminal stimulation is normally linked to unconscious perception.
An example of a subliminal stimulus is a sound that is presented in low tones that the average person cannot hear.
The sound will not be heard but its effects will be perceived by the subconscious mind and it may have an influence on our behavior and decision-making process.
Subliminal stimuli are used in subliminal messages that help with influencing people’s thoughts and actions in regard to different areas of life such as purchasing products, self-improvement, and motivation, just to name a few.
How Does a Subliminal Stimulus Work
There are 2 main types of subliminal stimuli.
The first type is the visual subliminal stimulus. This is a stimulus that is administered visually. You cannot see the stimulation at all but your subconscious mind can discern it.
For instance, if you are using a computer and there are subliminal messages being flashed on the screen so fast that you cannot see them, the type of subliminal stimulus being used there is the visual stimulus or stimuli.
The second type of stimulus is the auditory subliminal stimulus. This is the kind of stimulus that works with the auditory sense or the sense of hearing.
The stimulation provided has such a low tone that you can’t detect it.
An example of auditory subliminal stimuli is when a sound is played in a low tone that is meant to influence you in a certain way but you can’t hear it.
Say there is an audio file (or an mp3 file) that has been mixed with subliminal messages. When you listen to that file, you will not hear the subliminal messages but that doesn’t mean that the messages aren’t there.
They are. It is only that your conscious mind can’t perceive them.
Backmasking is also another way that has been used in songs.
Backmasking is when a song is recorded backward so that when it is played forward, the actual meaning of it is hidden.
The reason why you don’t get to sense any of the stimulation is that the subliminal messages are below the absolute threshold.
The absolute threshold is the lowest level of stimulus that a person can discern 50% of the time.
When the stimulation is under this threshold, your conscious awareness cannot detect it. That is what is referred to as a subliminal stimulus.
When the stimulus is above the threshold, your conscious awareness can detect it, meaning you can see or hear the stimulus.
This detectable type of stimulus is known as a supraliminal stimulus.
A supraliminal stimulus is a stimulus that you can perceive using your senses but you have no idea of the influence it has on your mind.
An example of a supraliminal stimulus is the word “dog” written somewhere you can easily see and which is meant to stimulate you to give a response to something related to the stimulus, based on the actual purpose of the stimulation.
Supraliminal stimuli is often used in supraliminal messages and supraliminal priming.
The Effects of Subliminal Stimuli
Subliminal stimuli have helped researchers uncover the different ways stimulation that is below our conscious perception affects us as human beings.
Researchers have discovered how we are affected and influenced by subliminal stimuli and how we respond to them.
Some of the ways subliminal stimuli affects include:
1. Improving our ratings of stimuli and moods – Studies have shown that repeated exposure to subliminal stimuli with the aim of influencing feelings and ratings of stimulation lead to an improvement in moods and positive ratings of related stimulation (1).
2. Improving levels of motivation – Researchers have found that when people are exposed to positive and uplifting subliminal messages, they become more motivated to undertake a certain task. A study revealed that when participants were first exposed to supraliminal priming and then subliminal priming, they were able to exert more force on a handgrip compared to the effort they applied when exposed to supraliminal priming alone (2).
3. Influencing the processing of conscious information – A study that was based on a masked priming paradigm showed that information that is presented unconsciously or subliminally, can be semantically processed and have some influence on our behavior (3).
4. Motivating us to do what we had already planned to do – Recent studies have also concluded that being exposed to subliminal messages that match a need that you are looking forward to satisfying, can inspire you to work harder to ensure the need has been satisfied.
For instance, if you go shopping and you had planned to buy a few things, subliminal messages can influence you to buy other items you need that you may have planned to buy in the near future but weren’t supposed to buy at that particular time.
However, it is worth noting that this only works when the subliminal messages are matching the biological need, and if the behavior is linked to a positive effect (4).
5. Influencing our thoughts and behaviors – There is more evidence that the information taken up subconsciously affects the high-level areas of the brain like the prefrontal cortex. This also causes the activation of neurons that makes it possible to influence many perceptual, cognitive, and decision-making processes (5).
Subliminal stimulation, subliminal priming, and subliminal messages are a growing area of study. The good deal of studies that have been done thus far has helped us understand the role they play in our lives and the areas of it they affect (6)(7)(8)(9)(10)(11).
More research studies will allow us to discover other areas they influence and how we can use them to improve our overall quality of life.