Subliminal Seduction - Fact or Fantasy ?



Is seeing believing?

continuation of subliminal seduction thread…

Ask David Copperfield. Or Penn Jillette. Or James Randi.
Better yet, those poor souls who saw a spaceship instead of a comet.
If there is scientific proof of subliminal suggestion, AND that advertising firms are using it, provide it.
If all you have is Andy Keys accusing a vast number of businesses of participating in a vast global conspiracy, you have nothing.

I believe I see two rectangles with a red X at the center. Gratuitous graphics are not going to further any causes here; please help us save bandwidth and provide links to existing material on another server.

A reminder - civil tongues shall prevail.

For The Straight Dope

dragonfly99, I have just read over the paper to which you provided a link. I’ll want to spend a bit more time with it before making up my mind. Are you the author? If so, I’ll probably have some questions for you in a day or two.

Please post any other links you have, you’ve engaged my curiousity.

I have looked at many ads, commercial product labels, magazine covers, etc., since first being exposed to the idea. The only subliminal thingies I ever see are the word “sex” airbrushed or Photoshopped into fashion or pinup-style pictures, and skull imagery in some (not all) alcohol ads. Thinking that either the alarmists are right or that I’m suggestible, I’ve tried to find some of the other stuff they say is pervasive, but don’t; the wide range of sex words (fuck, suck, etc) don’t seem to be there; the hidden sexual imagery (nudes cavorting, vaginas embedded in the curtain fabric, etc) not apparent.

Of course maybe I just have sex on my mind when I look at the pictures, who knows?

Designated Optional Signature at Bottom of Post

slythe wrote:

Just what do you consider valid and irrefutable scientific proof? This is only conjecture on my part, but psychology at the college level is not a one semester course.
And I highly doubt that Madison Avenue advertising agency executives just unwittingly cut and paste a few bland graphics from their local Kinkos when they assemble an ad for one of their many multi-billion dollar a year clients. But who knows?

As far as a coherent and binding conspiracy goes - Why do you keep tipping your hand?

Your reasoning here smacks of the frivilous lawsuit logic of uhmmm… errrr… ambushed , who left with his tail between his legs.

One dimensional psycho-strawman anyone?

AuraSeer wrote:

No, I am not. I have only had the fortuitous circumstance of having read Dr. Key’s Subliminal Seduction quite by accident many years ago, as I picked it up at my local Salvation Army thrift store by chance.

Here is some links that I have been able to scoop up.

[ul][li]Subliminal Advertising Effects in Magazine Advertisements[/li][li]Questionable Subliminals[/li][li]Subliminals in Windows98 ?[/li][li]More Subliminals in Windows95 ?[/li][li]The Subliminal Scares[/ul][/li]

“Right is only half of what’s wrong” - George Harrison - Old Brown Shoe -

I see that my gentle cajoling has had no effect on your insulting debating style, Dragonfly. Please cease and desist, or I will see to it your opinions no longer grace this forum. Enough’s enough.

For The Straight Dope

Any proof.
Any proof at all.
Evidence of a scientific nature.
Non-speculative gathering of facts.
A single double-blind study.

somebody wrote:

I guess that censorship is the operative word here. Would you kindly point out what you find objectionable? I really do not understand your point. Just what is your point??

It would appear that you want me to dumb-down the content of my postings. Sorry, can’t do that.

“Right is only half of what’s wrong” - George Harrison - Old Brown Shoe -

I don’t want you to “dumb down,” I want you to lighten up. Gratuitous insults are not called for in this forum. If you have trouble isolating the needlessly offensive language in your posts, then drop me a line and I’ll point out one or two.

If censorship is what you crave, then I’ll be happy to oblige you, but I’d like to think we are intelligent enough to avoid something so irksome. All of us welcome your
thought-provoking input, we just could do with a little less provoking.

For The Straight Dope

slythe wrote:

In your behaviorist zeal to refute and of course oversimplify the notion of subliminally embedded advertisements, you seem to gloss over the non-dynamic and non-responsive nature of my one-dimensional psycho strawman.

Therefore I shall resurrect him… as a multi-lingual death head! He speaks and contains tremendous amounts of information and communicates and thinks only in abstract (to some) symbols, relative of course to the language that he is currently speaking.
But there IS a mechanism that is culturally induced that can result in collective repression of his thoughts, ideas, and attitudes at the cultural level.

And that mechanism is… Why money (materialistic greed) of course.

The question is: At what cultural level does this repression take place? Is it all encompassing or is it culturally specific or is it trivial and easyily explainable with one or two questionable scientific studies?

The answer in part lies in the inability of modern science and modern scientific method to separate the observer from the observation. That is just the real world of empirical science. We don’t need to spend our time making exuses for it. Personal bias and subjectivity are still very much an issue.

“Right is only half of what’s wrong” - George Harrison - Old Brown Shoe -

Koo Koo Katchoo.

Goodbye walrus.

dragonfly - admit it, you found a coherent post on some other subject and you’re just randomly cutting and pasting the bits that you think sound impressive.

BTW, I checked out the sites provided and I didn’t see anything about proof - but I do have an unexplained desire to Drink More Ovaltine.

Well, I’d certainly agree that it would be hard to dumb-down your posts.


As I wrote near the end of the previous thread, there is one particular individual whom my conscience will not allow me to debate for ethical reasons. But my words were clearly not intended to suggest that I meant to drop out of the ongoing discussions altogether! Therefore, I submit this two-part list of URLs and other references for AuraSeer and anyone else who might be interested…
First, here are some excepts from: “Subliminal Perception” (all emphasis mine):

“Other claims regarding the extraordinary efficacy of subliminal perception also lack substance. In the 1970s, Wilson Bryan Key … claimed subliminal sexual symbols or objects are often used to entice consumers to buy and use various products and services. … Although Key’s claims are widely known, there is no independent evidence indicating that embedded subliminal words, symbols, or objects are used to sell products. Furthermore, even if such embedded subliminal stimuli were used, there is no evidence to suggest this would be an effective method for influencing the choices that consumers make.

“Belief in the power of subliminal perception … is so widespread that a number of companies have been able to exploit this belief by marketing subliminal self-help audio and video tapes. … *there have been a number of controlled studies *designed specifically to test of the efficacy of the tapes. All of these studies have failed to find any evidence consistent with the claims of the companies that market these tapes.”
Although this paper deals primarily with “subliminal” tapes, here’s an interesting excerpt regarding a court case involving alleged subliminal messages, in which T. E. Moore of York University recounts…

“some of the testimony by the plaintiff’s star witness, Wilson Brian Key, which reads more like a Marx Brothers’ routine than court proceedings. In a series of replies to defence counsel’s probes, Key admits having made one far-fetched claim after another about subliminal depravities lurking in well-known ads.

Also from a court proceeding, here is Key’s definition of science: “science is pretty much what you can get away with at any point in time.” Talk about one-dimensional psycho strawmen (well, psycho, anyway!) With an attitude like that, why should anyone expect evidence - or even minimal rationality - from Key?

In Moore’s words: "Key’s books constitute quintessential pseudoscience; they contain no citations, no references, and no documentation for any of his proclamations."

As Moore writes in his article “Scientific consensus and expert testimony: lessons from the Judas Priest trial.” (Skeptical Inquirer, Nov-Dec 1996 v20 n6 p32(8)):

There is not now, nor has there ever been, any reliable empirical evidence that subliminal stimulation can produce anything other than fairly brief and relatively inconsequential reactions. Further, there is no evidence whatsoever that subliminal directives can compel compliance
From an article by respected science writer Martin Gardner: “Th[e] tendency of chaotic shapes to form patterns vaguely resembling familiar things is responsible for one of the most absurd books ever written about advertising: Subliminal Seduction, by journalist Wilson Bryan Key … It’s hard to imagine anyone taking this nonsense seriously, especially since the author’s many references to “recent studies” never disclosed where they took place or who the experimenter was.”
Here’s one of Key’s main “ideas” from a positive review of his book The Age of Manipulation:

“Key hypothesizes that the male homosexual taboo is at play in many of these ads. When we perceive these images subliminally but repress them, he says, it creates an irrational attraction to the advertisement.”

In other words, embedding homoerotic imagery in ads is what makes 'em work! I’d say “irrational” is the Key word here!

From “The Selling of Subliminal Perception”:

“Wilson Bryan Key, whose paranoid fears of manipulation by subliminal advertisers punctuate his pop-psychology best-sellers, Subliminal Seduction and The Clam Plate Orgy. … no reputable scientist supports Key’s belief in the power of such messages…”

The Los Angeles Times reported “that many psychologists treat Key’s research in subliminal suggestion as a gimmick which cannot be disproved.”

From “Subliminal Persuasion Is A Myth”:

"Research on subliminal persuasion goes back over a hundred years and includes more than a hundred articles from the mass media and more than two hundred academic papers on the topic.

In none of these papers is there scientific evidence that subliminal messages influence behavior."

“If subliminal advertising is being used successfully, those with expertise in its applications would advertise and promote their talents in the many magazines and newspapers specializing in advertising, marketing, broadcasting, audience research, public relations, etc. So far, there has never been an ad for subliminal advertising production or design.

“The history of the subliminal controversy teaches us much about persuasion–but not the subliminal kind. If we are such a technological society, why do we continue to accept the power of subliminals without proof? Our belief is an act of faith not logic. … In general, popular press articles ignore scientific evidence and method to critically evaluate subliminal findings. Positive findings are emphasized and negative results rarely reported.”

From the article “Subliminal perception: Facts and fallacies” (SI 16: 273-281) comes:

“Many people believe that most advertisements contain hidden sexual images or words that affect our susceptibility to the ads. This belief is widespread even though there is no evidence for such practices, let alone evidence for such effects.

“… belief in such an influence is primarily the consequence of the writings and lectures of just one person - Wilson Bryan Key… Key offers no scientific evidence to support the existence of subliminal images; nor does he provide any empirical documentation of their imputed effects…”

A reviewer of one of Key’s books writes: “Why is there a market for yet another re-run of this troubled man’s paranoid nightmares?

(continued next post)

(continued from previous post)

A quotation from the book Ice Cube Sex: The Truth About Subliminal Advertising: "Subliminal advertising does not affect consumer buying behavior, advertising recall, or any other marketplace behavior."
From “Subliminal Advertising: Grand Scam Of The 20Th Century”:

“In September 1957, a self-employed market researcher named James McDonald Vicary claimed to have developed a new means of communication that would make people buy products in response to invisible messages. He called it subliminal advertising. Reports of his famous but fictitious Popcorn Experiment in a movie theater to increase sales of Coca-Cola and popcorn survive to this day, and are perpetuated by otherwise knowledgeable and reliable people. But the entire operation was a fraud, supported by intensive publicity, aimed at bamboozling advertisers. Common sense suggests that if subliminal advertising really could cause us to do things we do not want to do, it would be easy to make people stop taking illegal drugs, stealing cars, abusing children, driving drunk, and cheating on their income taxes.

From an outline for a psychology lecture: “Conclusion from reviews of the literature on subliminal processes: no evidence for subliminal effects on behavior

In an article titled “What’s Wrong With This Picture? The Fallacies Underlying ‘Subliminal Persuasion’”, there’s a discussion of the totally false “Eat Popcorn” / “Drink Coke” story that advertising “specialist” James Vicary made up in order to try to boost his struggling firm’s income…

“The reports of this fed the public fears and imagination in a powerful way which turned out to be much more potent than the method in Vicary’s [non-existent] study. His study in fact turned out to be a hoax, as admitted by Vicary (Danzig, 1962) and demonstrated by repeated failures to replicate the supposed effect. (Weir, 1984; Advertising Age, 1958). Nor have there ever been any successful replications to this date, or any clear evidence that subliminal messages can significantly influence behavior.

Quoted from an article in The Atlantic Monthly concerning subliminal advertising:

“There was just one problem with [Key’s peer Vance Packard’s] The Hidden Persuaders: it was wrong. … there was – and still is – little proof that these efforts to engineer action through manipulation of the unconscious led to any behavioral changes favorable to specific marketers. As for James Vicary’s experiment in subliminal advertising – it was a hoax: Vicary later admitted that he hadn’t done what he’d claimed. Several subsequent studies of the effectiveness of embedded messages have shown it to be virtually impossible to use them to produce specific, predictable responses.

This article, “Subliminal Perception (Subception) and why it’s bogus” reminds us that: "No unscientific theory can ever be proven wrong."

From a “Socratic dialog” comes this quotation:

The fact is, no reputable scientific research has found that subliminal messages live up to their claims. Actually, I can go further than that and state that research has shown just the opposite–experimental suubects do not perceive subliminal messages …”

Here are excerpts from another article that discusses Key and his claims…

“The subliminal mechanism that concerned Key most was the ‘embed’ – a word, slogan, or symbol inserted faintly – so faintly it is not perceived – into advertisements. ‘You cannot pick up a newspaper, magazine, or pamphlet, hear radio, or view television without being assaulted subliminally by embeds,’ Key claimed. Key saw a subliminal conspiracy of major proportions at work.

"Readers of Keys book will notice that significant questions remain, however. Where is Key’s documentation? Are there no witnesses to the preparation of the embeds? If subliminals are used by virtually every advertiser, why can’t Key quote just one of them on how they use the tactics? Of the thousands of illustrators and technicians who have staged the multi-billion dollar embedding campaigns, is there not one individual who tired of such deception and came forward with the truth? Apparently not…

Instead of presenting sturdy evidence, Key backs up his case with a hodgepodge of theories from the fields of communication studies, media criticism, and Freudian psychology, along with a heavy dose of his own ruminations on embeds.”

“Perhaps the main lesson to be learned from Subliminal Seduction and Key’s other books is that if you look hard enough, you can see some arguably suspicious things in all sorts of unlikely places. Anyone who has ever looked for images in the clouds knows the technique.

“If nothing else, Key’s unique assertions – for instance: “Bestiality may be illegal throughout most of the world, but, at the symbolic level, it appears to have sold a lot of Sprite” – have added a hysterically funny ingredient to the heated debate over the danger of subliminals.”

(speaking of subliminal humor, if you’re a MST3K fan like myself, you might want to check out this “MiSTing” of the delusional Dr. Key!)

Finally, here’s a short list citing a few of the sources used or referenced by the authors of the above:

Burnham, J. C. 1987. How superstition won and science lost: Popularizing science and health in the United States. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Cheesman, J., and P. M. Merikle. 1986. Distinguishing conscious from unconscious perceptual processes. Canadian Journal of Psychology 40: 343-367.

Moore, T. E. 1988. The case against subliminal manipulation. Psychology and Marketing 46: 297-316.

Pratkanis, A. R. 1992. The cargo-cult science of subliminal persuasion. Skeptical Inquirer 16: 260-272.

Moore, T.E. 1992. Subliminal perception: Facts and fallacies. Skeptical Inquirer, 16: 273-281.

Pratkanis, A. R., and A. G. Greenwald. 1988. Recent perspectives on unconscious processing: Still no marketing applications. Psychology and Marketing 5: 337-353.

Pratkanis, A. R., J. Eskenazi, and A. G. Greenwald. 1994. What you expect is what you believe (but not necessarily what you get): A test of the effectiveness of subliminal self-help audiotapes. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 15: 251-276.

Okay so I’ve been sitting here reading this thread and the previous long (often combative) one. Here’s my take as an audience member.

I was taught about the exsistence of subliminal messages and believed they exist. I can say though my mind has been changed. Reading the ongoing debate here, I find compelling evidence with citations on one side; and arguments that don’t make any sense to me on the other side (I STILL don’t have a clue what this strawman thing is).

Sorry Dragonfly, but not only have you not convinced me, you have helped show me the fallacy of subliminal messages.

Ambushed – X L N ! A truly momumental effort! My sincere congratulations!

There is this unfortunate tendancy of trollers (and extremists) to yell loud, to be obnoxious and immobile and repetitive, over and over and over and over… so that eventually the rational people give up discussion with them. Then the loonies think they’ve won. I’ve seen this with Holocaust-deniers, and with the more extremist positions (at both ends) of the abortion question, inter alia. I laughed out loud when I saw our little friend’s comment about how you’d been defeated, ambushed, knowing that you’d only hit the disgust-point. In any case, I’m delighted to see your very cogent and thorough debunkment. Thanks!

Hey Nickrz:

Kinda sorry I asked in the first place ;)!

dragonfly99, your arguments are far stronger in this thread than the last, as you’re now posting links to support your claims. This makes it much easier to follow your reasoning; please keep it up.

However, I do think that ambushed and slythe have got your sources outclassed so far. As I think has been said, you are the one making a positive assertion, that subliminal advertising is in widespread use. To convince people of this, you must show proof that you are correct; the “other side” need merely point out any holes in your argument.
Your first cite (in the OP) is a library research study, based primarily on Key; the second set mainly contain opinions or assumptions, without any research to back them up. Have you any cites for a controlled. scientific study?

You also wrote:

There’s that strawman again. Once again I ask: what do you mean when you use this term?