“The Cargo Cult Science Of Subliminal Persuasion”

875 words - 4 pages

In the modern film industry, movie theaters across the nation earn billions of dollars due solely to ticket sales. When the amount of funds spent on butter-soaked popcorn, fizzing soft drinks, and handfuls of teeth-rotting confections is factored in, theater owners ought to be sufficiently content with the money being raked in. But even with that being said, no billionaire CEO is going to turn away an opportunity to earn even more.

In the introduction of “The Cargo-Cult Science of Subliminal Persuasion” written by Anthony R. Pratkanis, summarizes the infamous subliminal persuasion experiment conducted by James Vicary in 1957. Vicary, a market researcher, administered an investigation involving popcorn, Coca Cola products and the big silver screen. During showings of the 1955 film Picnic, Vicary rigged the film projector to flash the phrases “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coke” repeatedly throughout the movie so quickly that it went unnoticed for quite a while. After running this experiment for six weeks, Vicary claimed that the sales of Coke products increased by 18.1% and those of popcorn by 57.8%. The media of the day spread the story like wildfire and scientists scrambled to replicate the procedure.

America between the years 1953 and 1962 was cluttered with talk of Korean War brainwashing and communist mind control. Films of this time such as The Manchurian Candidate, which told the fictional story of a military platoon being brainwashed by the Soviet KGB, aided the fear surrounding these ideas and gave Americans more reason to believe that Vicary’s experiment was legitimate.

In 1962, Vicary admitted in an interview with Advertising Age magazine that the original study he had conducted was a hoax created with the intention of increasing customers for his failing marketing business. Even with this confession being made public, many Americans feared that the safety of the collective national subconscious was in danger of attack.

Many researchers of psychology have poked several large holes in the myth of subliminal persuasion since Vicary’s “findings were released to the public. Several replications of the “Eat Popcorn/Drink Coke” experiment were attempted before Vicary’s admission of fraudulency including one produced by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation in 1958. In this trial, the company flashed the message “Phone Now”, in the same fashion as in the Picnic screenings, 352 times during a popular television show. No calls were made to the station despite the large number of repetition of the message. When asked to identify the content of the message, those who claimed they were consciously aware of it were incorrect in their guesses. Since no evidence proving that this kind of persuasion...

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