Number 7 GOLEMAN

Number 7 GOLEMAN - Research Probes What the Mind Senses Unaware New findings fitel debate about the power of messages directed Daniel Goleman The

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Unformatted text preview: Research Probes What the ' Mind Senses Unaware New findings fitel debate about the power of messages directed Daniel Goleman The p0wer of subliminal messages is taken as an article of faith by many people. Critics of advertising often take for granted the power of “hidden persuaders.“ Many parents stand con- vinced that messages buried in rock music are poisoning their children’s minds. And for vendors of audio tapes. the power of the imperceptible exhor- tation to strengthen memory or take offpounds is more than an article of faith—it is a profit center. But scientists studying the mind’s ability to register information outside awareness are locked in debate about the power of messages directed to the unconscious mind. Some. most of whom are cognitive psychologists, say there is no credible scientific evidence that hidden messages can persuade or cure. But psychoanalytic researchers claim their data show that certain kinds of subliminal messages can have great persuasive and therapeutic impact. Both sides agree that popular under- standing of subliminal persuasion is largely naive, crediting it with powers that it simply does not have. “There‘s a huge gap between the scientific data on subliminal perception and the extravagant claims made for it." said Timothy Moore, a psycholo— gist at York University in 'lbronto. “For example. I regard subliminal _ tapesasaformofhealthfraud." ' Even psychologists who say some subliminal messages can have therapeu- tic effects are skeptical about commercial tapes. "On the whole, the tapes do not work,” said Dr. Howard Shevrin, a psychologist at the Univer- sity of Michigan. “A uniform, off-the- rack message is not likely to have an to the unconscious. effect, and can even have negative ef- fects. However, the right message under the right circumstances might be therapeutic, but you have to tailor it to the individual.“ On Sunday Dr. Moore was the chairman of a panel on subliminal messagesattheannual meetingofthe American Psychological Association in Boston. The panel of cognitive psy- chologists declared that the lore about subliminal perception is largely non- sense. The matter is of more than aca- demic interest. The scientific debate hasspilledoverintothecourtroom in thetrialofarockband, Judas Priest. The parents of two men who killed themselves after listening to an album by the band contend that the suicides were caused by a subliminal message. “Do it!” on a song portraying a hope- less view of life. Tbstifying last week asanexpertwitness forthedefense, Dr. Moore said the assumption that embedded messages can compel such a strong reaction is_wrong. Dr. Shevrin, a wiuiess for the parents, disagrees. “As I read the evidence, including my own work, the subliminal message could have been a contributory cause to the suicides,” he said. Solid 'Ibsts Are Recent Only recently have there been well- conducted scientific tests of subliminal mesriages The results do not support the conunercial claims made for sub- In a study reported at the psycho- logical association‘s meeting. two subliminal tapes were given to volun- teers, whousedthemforsixtoZOses- sions over several weeks. One tape was to improve self-esteem, the odter to boost memory. Listeners heard only asmndlikethatofoceanwavesuhe messages about memory or self-esteem were beneath the threshold of con— scious awareness. the manufacturer said. But in the experiment half .the volun- teers received tapes with the labels reversed: what was labeled the self-es- teem tape, for example. was actually the memory tape. Changes in self-es— teemormemory weremeasuredby 12 different psychological tests. We asked, do you believe your memory or self-esteem has improved since you've used this tape?" said An- thony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington, who did the studies. “About 50 percent said they had impr0ved on memory or self-es- teem,buttheeffectwasaresultofthe labels, notthetapes. Thosewiththe tapeslabeledformemorysaidtheyhad better memory, those with tapes la- beled self-esteem said they felt better about themselves. But there was vir- tually no change on the objective measures of self-esteem or memory.” “lbday’s Snake Oil’ _ Anthony Pratkanis, a psychologist at the University of California at Santa- Cruz, said: “Subliminal tapes are to- day's snake oil. There's no eviderlce that there is subliminal perception of their message. There's no evidence of any perception at all, let alone evi- dence that they work." Subliminal tape companies typically 66 From: The New M rm. August 14. 1900. pp. Ct. CT. Copyright © 1990 by The New Ybrk Times Company. Reprinted by permission support their claims through testi- monials by satisfied customers, rather than by citing specific studies of their tapes‘ effectiveness. Despite the conclusion that the ef- fects of subliminal tapes are simply due to suggestion, Dr. Greenwald and other researchers concede that there is scientific evidence for the mind's abil- ity to perceive without conscious awareness. But they deny that sublimi- nalpercefiionscanleadtothekindsof effects like better bowling made in commercial claims. Studies of subliminal message don’t back claims fbr them. There is much debate among scien- tists, however. over the power of messages received outside a per-son's awareness to afl‘ect how people act. as well as over the conditions under which such effects occur. The debate tends to split along disciplinary lines. with cognitive scientists. who study how the mind takes in and stores infor- mation. disputing the power of subliminal messages and researchers with a psychoanalytic bent upholding it. The cognitive scientists tend to be scornful of the psychoanalytic research as poorly conducted. But the analysts discount the cognitive research as triv- ial. Tests was mashing Words In a typical cognitive science ap- proach to studying perception that goes on outside conscious awareness. volun- teers watch a screen on which words aredisplayedfora30thtoa50thofa second so all they see is a flash of light. The volunteer is asked to decide whether the string of letters makes a word or is nonsense. Justafterthewordisflashed,a gridlike pattern flashes to help imure thattheworddoes notregisterin awareness. Then, a half second later, a string ofletters is displayed so that it can be plainly seen. The volunteer is asked to decide whether this string of letters makes a werd or is nonsense. If the meaningofthe word is somehow related to that of the word that follows (for example, "day" and “night“), then people can more quickly and accurately identify the sec- ond as a word rather than a nonsense string of letters. This effect, known as priming. is widely accepted among cognitive psy- chologists as strong evidence that the mind registers information outside awareness. Even so. they do not see its implications as going far. “There's nothing very powerful that’s perfomied by the unwnscious in these experiments." said Dr. Green- wald. “It suggests a primitive, crude brain. not the potent unconscious that psychoanalysis calls for." For their part. psychoanalytic re— searchers have been carrying out more pointed studies. In one. for instance, volunteers are exposed to a four-milli- second flash of the message "Monuny and I are One." Some researchers have fotuid that seeing the message. im- proves volunteers' performance on a 'dartgame.aswellasonavarietyof measures of emotional well-being. The rationale is psychoanalytic. “The phrase evokes the positive state of an infant feeling united with her mother." said Joel Weinberger. a psy- chologist at Adelphi University. “In theory. it makes people feel secure and safe. In adulthood. it's an emotionally reparative experience; it makm you feel good about yourself." ' In an article to be published in the Clinical Psychology Review Dr. Wein- berger, with Richard Hardaway, used a statistical technique to combine results _ from 72 different studies, using a total of2.562 subjects. all exposed to the phrase “Monuny and I are one.“ “There definitely is an effect." Dr. Weinberger said. Dr. Weinberger cites the studies as ' scientific evidence that there is “some- thing like a psychtxlynamrc unconscious." as analysts take for granted. The cognitive scientists remain un- persuaded. “I don’t find the evidence that‘Mommyandlareone’ isa magic phrase very compelling." said Dr. Greenwald. adding that the meth- odsusedinthestudiesdonotinsure that the message was. in fact. outside the awareness of those volunteers tested. Psychoanalytic researchers. on the other hand, criticize cognitive scientists for failing to use words that are emo- tionally meaningful to the people being tested. Weretheytodoso.thepsycho— analysts say. they would find stronger effects. For instance. Dr. Shevrin uses indi- vidually selected words and plum in subliminal tests of patients being treated for problems like exuemeshy- ness. In the experiments. the phrases were flashed to the patients for one thousandth of a second. Using a com- puterized analysis of brain waves. Dr. Shevrin found that the patients had ' brain responses showing more reaction to the emotionally meaningful phrases than to neutral ones. . “The evidence says to me." said Dr. Shevrin, “that there is a Freudian un- conscious. and it is a potent force in mental life." ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/03/2008 for the course PSYC 1000 taught by Professor Carter during the Spring '07 term at Montana Tech.

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Number 7 GOLEMAN - Research Probes What the Mind Senses Unaware New findings fitel debate about the power of messages directed Daniel Goleman The

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