What is the difference between subliminal persuation, mind-control and brainwashing?
Basically, nothing. They all three are a way of saying that there exist some kind of magical process able to influence other people’s mind against their will, and they all three have been used to instill irrational fear and prejudice towards unpopular groups. Even though evidence to support any of these three myths have been quite thoroughly debunked, they keep having a potent effect in the mind of an uninformed public who tend to believe such a magical process exists, works, and is being used against unsuspecting victims.
The « technical » difference between brainwashing and mind-control is that in the first case, the victim is being physically restrained while in the other, a combinaison of environmental pressure and suggestion is being used to manipulate him.
A detailed analysis of these two claims is not the subject of the present topic, but can be found otherwise on this web site (see the mind-control threads). Let it be said that studies conducted in the aftermath of the 1950’s red-communist brainwashing craze have shown that there was no such thing as brainwashing EVEN in the case where the perpetraror had an absolute control over the person’s movement and life. As for the mind-control allegation, mostly levied against religious cults in the 70’-80’s, it has likewise undergone a battery of independent tests that reduced it to a mere superstition, believed only by a few anti-cultists who hold on this believe despite evidence to the contrary - much like flat-earther insists they are the ones to be right, no matter the amount of evidences being accumulated against their pet proposition.
In the case of subliminal messages, what is alleged is that simple pictures that do not register on the eyes and that are repeated in relatively close sequences can bring someone to do something he wouldn’t do otherwise.
The basis for this belief is the experiment conducted by James Vicary in 1958, who flashed the words « Eat Popcorn » and « Drink Coke » on the screen every five seconds while a film was playing, which words were invisible to the eyes of the audience as they were flashed for a mere third of a millisecond. Vicary claimed that sales of Cokes increased of 18% and the one of popcorns of 58%.
Now, in 1962, Vicary announced that his experiment was nothing but a fabrication. He never published any formal write up about it and nobody could ever replicate it. In other words, the whole thing was nothing but an hoax. It didn’t prevent, however, the belief to spread around and even to this day there are people who will cite the Vicary’s experiment as a proof for the existence of subliminal persuation.
In a very good article to be found on the Skeptical Inquirer site, Anthony R. Pratkanis, psychology teacher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, cites another experiment that attempted to replicate Vicary’s alleged results :
Pratkanis goes on to say :
Claims of subliminal persuations keep popping up from time to time. One may say it is almost part and sandry of the paranoid nature of the claim itself – « yeah, sure, in the olden days those guys didn’t really know what they were doing, but NOW, with the technical progress et all, NOW « they » really mastered the techniques to enslave us all with the blink of an eye ».
Other than unverifiable allegations that were most probably just made up by a group of people who hold a grudge against another, however, there is usually nothing to substantiate these claims at all.
In 1990, « Judas Priest », a popular rock band, was put to trial on the accusation that sublimial messages embeded in their song caused the suicide of teenagers Ray Belknap and James Vance. The judge, however, refused to buy this myth and, after having examined the available evidences, rightly dismissed the case. Using Occam’s razor law that says we don’t need an embroiled explanation when a simple one exists, he stated :
More recently, in April 2000, Larry Wollersheim, of Factnet, claimed that subliminal messages in favor of Scientology were embedded in the upcoming film, Battlefield Earth, made by John Travolta, a prominent Scientologist. He based his claim on ground of a « credible » witness, but refused to say who it was, then declared that Scientology had uncovered a « new an undectable mean » to create these messages, while failing to provide even a modicus of evidences for this allegation.
The Wollersheim example is a good illustration on how spurious allegations of « subliminal persuation » can be used in an attempt to disparage an hated class, even though there isn’t a shred of evidence to substantiate them. Demand for evidences can be dismissed on the ground of the very conspirational nature of the claim itself. If he can’t reveal the identity of the person making the allegation, it is because of the evil nature of the conspirators. And if the messages can’t be detected, it is because « they » use an extremely sophisticated technology, unbeknown to us poor mortal to this day. Says Pratkanis :
While journalists and film critics treated Factnet’s allegations with the skepticism and derision they deserved, less informed and more vulnerable people bought it hook and sinker :
Extraordinary claims require extraordaniry proofs. Nearly half a decade after these subliminal claims have become popularized, the claims are still extraordinary, while the proofs are still extraordinarily absent. Claims of subliminal persuation have no basis whatsoever. Anymore than cult mind-control or brainwashing. Or satanic possession, for that matter. But, even though we are well into the years 2000, there are still people willing to believe or make believe in the existence of these old demons.
The times they are changing... In the first millenium, satanic possession. In the second millinium, mind-control/subliminal persuation/brainwashing. In the third millenium... the Psychlo learning machine!
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