Fundamentals of Pyschology Drawing the Line between Subliminal Perception and Subliminal Persuasion

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Humans are subjected to various stimuli in everyday situations. These may range from the obvious - a street sign - to the obscure - a tiny image of a man hidden in an advertisement for whiskey. Subtle messages can be perceived by people even without having to concentrate on finding them. This characteristic of humans can be viewed as something similar to what Ruth Benedict talks about in Tavris and Wade's book, Psychology, she said "because of the way our species evolved, many abilities, tendencies, and characteristics are either present at birth in all human beings or develop rapidly as a child matures" (77). The skill of perceiving hidden messages is perhaps one of these abilities. The terms "subliminal perception" and "subliminal persuasion" come to mind when talking about subtle messages. However, it is important to note the definitions of these terms to find out just how different they really are and why they are not interchangeable.

John Santrock defines subliminal perception as "the ability to detect information below the level of conscious awareness" (181). On the other hand, subliminal persuasion, according to Charles Larson, involves the subtle use of words or pictures in media in such a way that consumers of the media do not consciously recognize them, yet absorb the subliminal message they imply (43). In discussing subliminal perception, Santrock mentions an experiment by Carol Fowler and her colleagues in 1981 that proved that people can process information beneath their absolute threshold. The researchers would briefly flash a word on a screen, then give the participants two words and make them pick which of the two words was most like the previously flashed word (181). Santrock also writes that, in addition to the results of the experiment, modern research has confirmed a direct relationship between...