Skip to main content

Motor Priming and Subliminal Perception

Image result for subliminal

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! 


Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…