According to Wikipedia, "[a] subliminal message is a signal or message embedded in another medium, designed to pass below the normal limits of the human mind's perception. These messages are unrecognizable by the conscious mind, but in certain situations can affect the subconscious mind and can negatively or positively influence subsequent later thoughts, behaviors, actions, attitudes, belief systems and value systems."
A new study by a UCL team led by Professor Nilli Lavie provides evidence that people are able to process emotional information from subliminal images and are better at detecting negative subliminal messages. ScienceDaily reports:
In the study, Professor Lavie and colleagues showed fifty participants a series of words on a computer screen. Each word appeared on-screen for only a fraction of second – at times only a fiftieth 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.
The researchers found that the participants answered most accurately when responding to negative words – even when they believed they were merely guessing the answer.
"There has been much speculation about whether people can process emotional information unconsciously, for example pictures, faces and words," says Professor Lavie. "We have shown that people can perceive the emotional value of subliminal messages and have demonstrated conclusively that people are much more attuned to negative words.
Professor Lavie explains that there are evolutionary advantages to responding quickly to subliminal negative information because those emotional messages may have helped us avoid danger.