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Motor Priming and Subliminal Perception

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I mentioned in a blog entry a short time ago that certain experimental findings in psychology have been successfully replicated in a way that leaves some hope that psychology may really be a science, that some findings can be properly considered settled. 

The philosopher/blogger Brian Leiter commented that none of the specific findings on the list are especially "sexy" from the PoV of philosophy. 

This drew a comment from me on his blog and out of laziness  I'll simply paste it here.


There was at one time quite a hullabaloo (technical terminology I know, but bear with me) about the "hidden persuaders," about how nasty Madison Avenue folks had figured out subliminal perception and used it to deprive us of free will and get us to buy their products. The height of the scare on subliminal advertising was, I believe, roughly the fictitious Don Draper's heyday.
The one fascinating finding among these involves motor priming. Although subliminal perception CAN play a part in this, the now successfully replicated finding is that the consequence of a subliminal perception is the opposite of what one would have expected had the perception been of the super-liminal sort.
So Don Draper might have prepared an ad that subliminally says "eat burgers" and the viewing public might have been turned off of burgers? Well, that is a gross extrapolation of the finding. But the actual un-extrapolated finding does help bury what remains of the hidden-persuaders panic. 
To expand a bit:
The experiments' subjects are instructed to press the appropriate keyboard key as quickly as they can as left- or right-facing arrows flashed on-screen. Before the screen shows the arrow they're waiting for, it shows various "primes." Sometimes these primes are accurate, warning that a left facing arrow is coming up when that is in fact the case. Sometimes they are inaccurate.
Accurate primes lead to faster performance, as one might expect. Inaccurate primes slow performance. 
The philosophical bit is this: subliminal primes worked in the opposite direction from superliminal primes. When "primed" subliminally to think a leftward arrow is coming up, one is MORE rather than less quick in identifying a rightward arrow.

So maybe our minds inherently recognize AND RESIST hidden persuasion! 


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