Can subliminal messages in movies be used to manipulate you? Like in FIGHT CLUB?


Not if it’s a good movie.

Subliminal messages only work if we have plenty of unused brainpower. If we’re engrossed in a good movie, they won’t work.

Via Wait: The Art and Science of Delay:

Researchers at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience cited Fight Club as an example in explaining their recent finding that subliminal images affect our behavior only when we have lots of unused brain capacity. In contrast, when our brains are busy (in their experiment, “busy” meant trying to find a blue Z or a white N amid a continuous stream of letters), the images don’t affect us. If our brains are active, subliminal messages go unanswered.

So, if we are watching Fight Club and we are engaged in the plot and puzzling through the final scenes, we are less likely to be influenced by that sexually explicit subliminal image. But if we are exposed to the image while our minds are inactive, perhaps because we aren’t paying attention, then we might be in trouble (or, if we like the image, in luck). One way to be inoculated against a subliminal message is to be thinking when the message arrives. When users of Google’s search engine reported a bug that allegedly caused subliminal flashes of hard-core pornography during certain online searches, there was understandable concern. Yet few people realized that, among those exposed to the images, the most vulnerable were those who were bored.

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