The Wellcome Trust funded a study, which appears in this month’s journal Emotion, addressing the use of subliminal messages—perhaps explaining why factional political parties prefer to display the opposition negatively rather than engaging in informed debate. See excerpt:
Key to subliminal messaging is to keep it negative, study shows
28 September 2009
Subliminal messaging is most effective when the message being conveyed is negative, according to new research funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Subliminal images – in other words, images shown so briefly that the viewer does not consciously ‘see’ them – have long been the subject of controversy, particularly in the area of advertising. Previous studies have already hinted that people can unconsciously pick up on subliminal information intended to provoke an emotional response, but limitations in the design of the studies have meant that the conclusions were ambiguous.
Today, the journal ‘Emotion’ publishes a study by a UCL team led by Professor Nilli Lavie, which provides evidence that people are able to process emotional information from subliminal images and demonstrates conclusively that even under such conditions, information of negative value is better detected than information of positive value.
In the study, Professor Lavie and colleagues showed 50 participants a series of words on a computer screen. Each word appeared on-screen for only a fraction of second – at times only a 50th of a second, much too fast for the participants to consciously read the word. The words were either positive (e.g. cheerful, flower and peace), negative (e.g. agony, despair and murder) or neutral (e.g. box, ear or kettle). After each word, participants were asked to choose whether the word was neutral or ’emotional’ (i.e. positive or negative), and how confident they were of their decision.