It was probably around 1983 that I turned to subliminal messaging audiotapes to help me stop smoking cigarettes. I had tried other techniques, including quitting “cold turkey”, but I couldn’t make it through longer than a few hours without a smoke. I was in desperate straits.
The first tape I bought was packaged in a small, bright green cardboard box that contained the tape, the text of the subliminal message, and listening tips. I was to play the tape each day in my car and at home for “optimal” success. There was also a disclaimer warning me that any results are varied and not guaranteed.
I eagerly put the tape into play in the car stereo. Mediocre “New Age” type electronic music came through the speakers, but there was no discernable message that I was aware of. During the following month or so, I faithfully played the terrible music but felt no change in the urge to light up cigarettes. Then I gave the tape away to my brother, who listened to it a few times then disposed of it in the trash.
A few weeks later, I spotted a magazine advertisement for a series of subliminal tapes that promised to dramatically change my life. I sent away for four tapes. “Quit Smoking”, “Improve Relationships”, “Halt Bad Habits”, and “Relax”. Each cassette tape featured two methods to use. The “A” sides had a message “imbedded” within a recording of ocean surf rolling into a beach. The “B” sides used the message in the context of an “auto-hypnosis” session. There was a warning to never use the tapes while driving or operating dangerous equipment.
I used the tapes often, and for several years. The cigarette habit remained fully with me. My relationships didn’t really improve, I don’t think I dropped any other harmful habits; but I was able to deeply relax. In fact, I still have a couple of the tapes around the house. If I have trouble dropping off to sleep, I pop one into my bedside tape player and am soon lulled into slumber.
I finally quit smoking in February of 1988 with the help of my personal physician. Perhaps subliminal messaging had something to do with it, or maybe this is just confirmation bias. I think I quit out of pure desperation. I had finally set aside the passivity and took charge. Who’s to say the tapes didn’t have anything to do with my ultimate success?
Subliminal communications have been attempted with varying results for many years. Whether they are in self-help “auto reprogramming”, or in advertising and propaganda campaigns, we have all been exposed to them.
The seed to the subliminal communication concept came from one of Sigmond Freud’s revelations. He stated that “Mankind is a mere particle of his potential. Unconscious process predetermine conscious choices, and therefore behavior.” Freud further stated, “Personality is rather rigid, and consequently the human condition is an abysmal shadow of itself.”
Most of the theory behind subliminal communication posits that conscious thinking can be influenced by factors outside of conscious awareness. Supposedly, because we constantly filter out extraneous data to focus our attention we still retain much of the extraneous information in our subconscious. This is the “science” behind the techniques.
After many years of independent research, some very slight, temporary effects manifested among people subjected to subliminal communication. However, there has been no definitive support for its effectiveness in behavior modification.
Despite the fact that there is no real proof that subliminal messaging actually works, nobody has stopped the production and marketing of the sort of tapes I purchased in 1983 nor similar products on CDs, DVDs, and online. People generally wish to improve themselves and believe they can achieve great accomplishments with passive techniques. Proof of this desire is that American consumers spend around $50,000,000 annually on subliminal communication, self-help products, according to the “Journal of Advertising Research”.
When I was a media student, we had to read The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard as part of our curricular requirements. The book includes the famous story about the advertising promoter who said he increased popcorn and Coca Cola sales by 18-percent at a movie theater by briefly flashing the messages, “Hungry–Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca Cola” onto the movie screen. That claim turned out to be a hoax, but belief in it remains, to this day.
I bring up this subject today in order to encourage rational discernment regarding this interesting, compelling field. September is Subliminal Communications Month. There are plans among industry leaders to promote the sales and use of subliminal communications techniques and products. It is ultimately up to the individual consumer whether or not to believe the claims of those who promote subliminal communications.
There are also many persuasive commentators who believe that the public is being subjected to subliminal messages and mass hypnosis in order to “mold” societal behavior. While some of them seem to fit into the tinfoil hat category, others appear to be somewhat rational.
Passive techniques are very seductive by virtue of the fact that little or no effort is required to use them. However, we should remember that the amount of real effort we apply to a goal, is reflected by the degree of success we ultimately experience.
This is a good time to investigate the large scope of subliminal communications. There is much to check out regarding “backmasking”, corporate logos, hidden messages in movies and television shows, plus “subconscious” messages in background music played in airports, shopping malls, and other public spaces.