In relation to subliminal messaging and to its close counterpart subliminal hypnosis, much has been said but not actually all that much verified, one way or the other. The term subliminal hypnosis is actually something of a misnomer, in that all hypnosis is in some way subliminal, the aim being to bypass the critical faculty of the conscious mind to ease the way for positive suggestions to be absorbed by the subconscious. However there's too much synergy between the history of subliminal messages and hypnosis itself for there not to be an overlap between them.
There are two main fields in which subliminally induced hypnosis can be thought of as the most apt and suitable descriptor. Firstly, in what has come to be known as covert or conversational hypnosis, where A hypnotizes B but without B having been consciously aware of it, and secondly the use by some political and media organizations of subliminal messages in advertising with the aim of influencing the thinking and/or buying behavior of large sections of the public in such a way that the influence itself is concealed from conscious awareness.
While it's true that all hypnosis is in a way subliminal, the technique of inducing hypnosis subliminally is different from that which would be used in a "traditional" hypnosis or self hypnosis session. In summary, hypnotizing someone subliminally means hypnotizing them without their conscious knowledge of having been hypnotized.
There have been for some years differences of opinion as to how effective subliminal messaging and hypnosis actually is. The whole idea of the use of subliminal hypnotic techniques, images or whatever is based on the concept that the subconscious can pick up on things that the conscious mind cannot.
However some believe that without any conscious awareness whatsoever a subliminal suggestion would simply fail to have any impact. Others differ, often pointing to the well documented effectiveness of "sleep learning" or "sleep hypnosis" as being proof that the subconscious can absorb messages or influences totally independently of the conscious mind.
The reference to "well documented effectiveness" above is relevant because there are numerous hard copy, online and viral examples of and case histories of individuals who have absorbed hypnotic suggestions while asleep and found that it helped them considerably in fulfilling whatever their specific goal was.
Sleep hypnosis or learning is, however, not quite the same thing as subliminal hypnosis. It may - to some - prove that the subconscious can be susceptible to messages which have not been in any way "filtered" by the conscious mind, but sleep hypnosis is still instigated consciously, in that you consciously switch on the tape or mp3 or whatever before going to sleep, so therefore it could be argued that the entire process is not completely subliminal.
There are nevertheless many instances of subliminal techniques having had the intended effect, especially with regard to conversational or covert hypnosis when used on a one to one basis or involving smaller groups of people. On a larger scale, however, there is some doubt about the effectiveness of for example subliminal messages in movies.
This was a legal marketing technique in cinemas and on TV in the US until it was banned sometime I think around the late 1950's, partly because of its insidious and potentially dangerous nature, but also because doubts emerged about the impact of the technique. However an anti Al Gore campaign ad from not all that long ago was found to have subliminally flashed the word RATS a split second after one of Gore's appearances in the ad, indicating that the highly experienced media and marketing professionals hired to work on the ad believed strongly enough in the power of subliminal advertising to risk exposure, not that the "exposure" itself amounted to much.
So, are subliminal techniques effective or not? The answer is - in some circumstances and to some extent - yes. Your subconscious mind is at any time fully aware of a million things going on around you. Such a huge amount of information would cause the conscious mind to simply crash, so it filters out most of what is not immediately relevant to its basic purposes.
This however does not prevent the subconscious taking "special" notice of certain words or images which have been directed towards it subliminally in specific situations, such as in the use of conversational hypnosis, especially when the words and/or images are ultimately designed to make some sort of emotional connection.
It's however unlikely that this would work on a mass, large scale audience, at least not simultaneously - too many different people with different feelings, thoughts, ideas, motivations etc - but it's likely that it would work on a percentage of them. What this percentage might be could only be guessed at, as the only way to really measure it would be by mass participation in a controlled experiment.
Of course there are now many who believe that a combination of subliminal hypnosis, mass mind control methods and good old fashioned fearmongering, lies and omissions is already in use throughout the media. So what's new?
While there's no doubt that subliminal advertising techniques have been used, along with similar techniques in movies and also perhaps music, the evidence for their effectiveness on the mass scale on which they were intended to work is patchy, simply because by definition the use of covert techniques is not a field which is compatible with the kind of widely scaled empirical research and documentation which would be required to establish its actual impact.
However for the individual seeking to expand their knowledge and ability in the field of subliminal hypnosis, tangible results are much more easy to achieve. The techniques of conversational or covert hypnosis, for use in one to one situations and general social interaction, have, since Milton Erickson's day and more particularly in the last decade or so, been demonstrably proved to work.
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