Let’s start with marketing and subliminals.
Many years ago, I was chatting with a pal in the local Mexican restaurant, when I suddenly felt a pang of shame. My first reaction was to wonder what I had just said that was so embarrassing. It occurred to me, though, that if I had said something so embarrassing, I would have noticed that first, before feeling shame. After all, I would have to know I was supposed to feel ashamed before actually going to the trouble to feel that way, wouldn’t I?
Then I recalled that I had taken niacin. I don’t really know why I took the niacin, exactly. It was just that everyone was taking vitamins, and this one was supposed to help flush out your system.
It so happens that one thing niacin definitely does do, is to cause people to flush, or blush. In my case, it started in my forehead. I reserve blushing in my forehead exclusively for an attack of shame. I don’t have attacks of shame all that often, so it was a very striking experience.
This brings me to the subject of subliminals. Do you know what subliminals are good for? They don’t give you secret commands in any detail. The guy that said he made people eat more popcorn in a movie theater turned out to be a liar, and nobody could replicate his research, either.
But we do know that there really is such a thing a subliminal message. Scientists are measuring brain activity as well as various behaviors, and finding out that subliminal information can be processed way up in cortical areas (the gray matter areas that are supposed to contribute the most to what we think of as consciousness).
People tend to recognize words they’ve been exposed to subliminally (like when the words are flashed quickly and then other words are shown, to help hide the flashed words).
This means that the material had to be processed in areas of the brain that makes sense of words. That’s a big deal.
Marketers know that people prefer things that they are familiar with. This fuels all those product placements you may or may not notice in movies. There may be hundreds of them, and you may only notice none. Unlike subliminals that you are not able to be consciously aware of, product placements are only subliminal if you don’t notice them. Preconscious, in this case, is really a better word then subliminal.
It doesn’t matter whether you consciously notice or not, because some other parts of your brain are noticing, and making you feel a preference for the item when given a choice between that and a similar item, say, a Coke and a Dr. Pepper. But subliminal exposure works, too. Isn’t it funny that we mistake familiarity for preference. That would explain a lot.
In part II, I’ll explain why something I call a “secure base attack” (in psychology, not a military base) eased us into Iraq. Oh, and that shame blushing thing will make more sense, too.
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