Date: Sat, 21 Sep 1996 12:12:22 -0400

From: Allan Metcalf AAllan[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM

Subject: Subliminal perception

This from the Chronicle of Higher Education's "Academe Today" 9/20/96:

A glance at today's issue of "Science":

When the motivational researcher James Vicary claimed in 1957

that he could persuade movie-theater patrons to buy more

popcorn and soft drinks by flashing subliminal messages on the

screen, he kindled scientific debates about whether such

messages could influence human behavior. A new study led by

Anthony G. Greenwald, a psychology professor at the University

of Washington, found that Mr. Vicary was right in theory but

not in practice. Dr. Greenwald and his colleagues asked

subjects to identify nearly 500 "target" words as either male

or female or pleasant or unpleasant. Every few seconds, one of

the words was briefly flashed on a computer monitor. Just

before each word flashed, the subjects were exposed to a

"subliminal sandwich": a string of 15 consonants, a "priming"

word, then another 15 consonants. In some cases, the priming

and target words agreed, such as two female names, and in

others they did not. When the subjects were obliged to classify

the words in less than a second, the error rate sharply

increased if the priming word disagreed with the target word.

That result showed that the subjects were perceiving the

priming words unconsciously, Dr. Greenwald found. The research,

he said, also shows that Mr. Vicary's "eat popcorn" and "drink

Coca-Cola" movie messages were a "hoax" because two-word

messages were too complex to be deciphered by unconscious

thought. (The journal may be found at your library or

newsstand, or on line at