Subliminal messaging may not qualify as an Thaler-Sunstein approved nudge, but it can nudge you

Worries about subliminal messages are a common topic of debate by Nudge objectors. The general rule on handling the subliminal problem is to rely on what John Rawls called the publicity principle: If the choice architect cannot defend a nudge publicly, it should not be implemented. This rule pretty much rules out subliminal messaging. But for those who are just trying to manipulate behavior, there is recent evidence that split-second images will have a stronger impact than 30-second television commercials. Why would that be? Because when a television commercial airs, your guard is up, and you are ready to thwart any advertiser’s persuasive messaging. Split-second images hit you when your guard is down, and are more easily absorbed without you realizing it.

The Situationist links to an interesting study by a pair of Duke researchers who placed hidden Apple and IBM logos inside computer screens of subjects as they undertook a series of tasks.

(Afterwards) the participants then completed a task designed to evaluate how creative they were, listing all of the uses for a brick that they could imagine beyond building a wall.

People who were exposed to the Apple logo generated significantly more unusual uses for the brick compared with those who were primed with the IBM logo, the researchers said. In addition, the unusual uses the Apple-primed participants generated were rated as more creative by independent judges.

“This is the first clear evidence that subliminal brand exposures can cause people to act in very specific ways,” said Gráinne Fitzsimons. “We’ve performed tests where we’ve offered people $100 to tell us what logo was being flashed on screen, and none of them could do it. But even this imperceptible exposure is enough to spark changes in behavior.”

A YouTube video is here.

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