Bad news for advertisers hoping to sell products to consumers' subconscious: a new study finds subliminal messaging works best not with images of happiness or consumer satisfaction, but when the message leaves the viewer feeling anxious or threatened.
A team of researchers at University College London showed volunteers a series of words with positive, negative, and neutral connotations. Each word was shown too quickly for the viewer to consciously perceive it, but the researchers asked the viewers to identify whether the word had an emotional value. Viewers correctly identified negative words as having an emotional value 77 percent of the time, while they correctly identified positive words as having an emotional value just 59 percent of the time.
The researchers believe that this superior subliminal perception of negative words is tied to a primal tendency to be more alert to threats than to non-threats. Thus, words that create a sense of fear or anxiety are more acutely perceived by the human brain and are more likely to trigger an emotional response. That suggests that, if advertisers are looking to utilize subliminal messages, it's less effective to tout your product's virtues than it is to bash the competition.
Power of the hidden message revealed [The Independent]