10 of Psychology's Greatest Myths

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Subliminal Advertising Works

It's one of the great conspiracies of the television era: that advertisers and influencers are flashing subtle messages across our screens -- sometimes lasting as little as 1/3000th of a second -- and altering how we think and act, as well as what we buy.

Rest assured, however, these advertisements don't work. Your unconscious mind is safe. In a great many carefully controlled laboratory trials, subliminal messages did not affect subjects' consumer choices or voting preferences. When tested in the real world, subliminal messaging failed just as spectacularly. In 1958, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation informed its viewers that they were going to test a subliminal advertisement during a Sunday night show. They then flashed the words "phone now" 352 times throughout the program. Records from telephone companies were examined, with no upsurge in phone calls whatsoever.

The dearth of evidence for subliminal advertising hasn't stopped influencers from trying it. In 2000, a Republican ad aimed at Vice President Al Gore briefly flashed the word "RATS."


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