<This is my senior essay. (High School) It was written in November, 2008. It is about the subconcious mind. I hope you enjoy it.>
The mind is truly a wonderful thing! It is the mind that has granted mankind the knowledge needed to build towering metropolises. It is the mind that allows artists to create beautiful works of art. It is the mind that separates us from animals. However, the most fascinating aspect of the human mind is that it is still a mystery. The subconscious, the part of our mind that we have no conscious control over, is constantly at work. While the way it works is still a mystery, scientists are learning more and more about it every day. The subconscious is an amazing feature of the human mind that can perceive the inperceivable; it fuels social interactions, is a determining factor of our success, and dictates the way we shop.
One aspect of the subconscious mind is that it plays a crucial role in social interactions. A good example would be how people unknowingly mimic the posture and mannerisms of those around them, a behavior sometimes known as the chameleon effect. (Bower) In an experiment meant to prove the chameleon effect, volunteers in groups of two were asked to take turns identifying a series of pictures. One of the partners in each pair was secretly asked to shake his feet and rub his face often. The other partners mimicked the behavior without conscious knowledge of what they were doing. (Bower) In another experiment, one partner from every other group was asked to mimic his or her partner’s mannerisms while working on a project. The volunteers whose mannerisms had been copied said they liked their partner much more than those who did not. (Bower)
Another way in which the subconscious affects us is micro-expressions, or the idea that facial expressions and emotions are dependent on each other. Whenever we feel an emotion, such as anger or happiness, we express them with facial expressions. This much is common knowledge, but experiments have shown that it is impossible for a person to hide their facial expressions. Whenever a person feels an emotion, it will show up on their face, even if it is only for a small fraction of a second. (Blink 209) While there is no way that the conscious mind can detect these micro-expressions, it is possible that the subconscious if fully aware of them. This could explain, at least in part, why some people seem to have a talent for sensing emotions, or why some people can always tell when someone is lying. (Blink 211) Is it possible that the female mind may be more sensitive to micro-expressions that the male mind, which would help to explain women’s intuition.
Tomkins and Ekman, the scientists who discovered micro-expressions, also discovered that they work in reverse. They found that facial expression can generate emotions. Ekman once described the insight like this: “What we discovered is that expression alone is sufficient to create marked changes in the autonomic nervous system” (Blink 206). To prove this new discovery, they – along with Robert Levennson – preformed an experiment in which group 1 was asked to relive a stressful experience, they experienced a rise in heart rates and body temperatures. Group 2 was then asked to keep an angry expression on their face. They also experienced a rise in heart rates and body temperatures. This means that the expression on your face can affect your current mood. (Blink 207) Smile therapy really works!
The number of people around has also been proven to affect behavior. A good example would be that people are less likely to help someone in need when others are around. This was proven in an experiment where a student was left alone in a room was asked to stage an epileptic fit. When there was only one person in the next room to hear the fit, the person rushed to the student’s aid 85% of the time. However, when there were four other people in the room, someone helped the student only 31% of the time. (Tipping 28)
Racism can also play a big role in the way that our subconscious mind works. While most people believe that racism is evil, stereotypes can affect our subconscious mind and create prejudices. (Olver) These subconscious prejudices are usually embedded into peoples mind’s before they turn six. (Olver) Harvard has developed a test that can measure these subconscious prejudices called the Race Implicit Association Test. The test can be found online at implicit.harvard.edu. I have taken the test and the results were baffling. It tells me that I have a strong preference for European-Americans over African-Americans. I have always held a firm belief that racism is wrong; can it be possible that I am racist on a subconscious level? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. There are many bad stereotypes against black people, especially where I come from, and they have affected the way I think. Even more disturbing is the fact that my results are actually quite common. In fact, 54% of the population has a strong or moderate preference for European-Americans. (Olver) I had thought that America had come so much farther than this. Does this mean that there is no hope for true racial equality? The answer is no; there is always hope. According to Kim Ollver, author of Leveraging Diversity at Work, subconscious racisms can be overcome. She says:
“Now that you know about the disparity between your conscious intentions and your subconscious beliefs, you are responsible for taking or not taking action. If you want to take action, you need to become aware of the messages of your subconscious and deliberately place yourself in situations where you will be exposed to positive messages and associations with the group against which you have been biased. Gaining more positive information and experiences to balance out the negative is the only way to counterbalance the influence of our subconscious. (Olver)”
Another profound way in which the subconscious affects our lives is by being a determining factor of success. A good example would be first impressions. First impressions are the biggest factors upon success. (Bremer) To prove this point, there was once an experiment done in which a series 10-second silent clips of professors teaching were shown to a group of volunteers. The volunteers were then asked to fill out a 15 item checklist about the personalities and teaching skills of the professors based on the videos. The professor’s students were then asked to fill out the same questionnaire about their teachers. The checklists filled out by the students and the ones filled out by the volunteers were nearly the same. This experiment was repeated with 5-second, and then 2-second silent video clips. The results stayed the same. (Jensen) This shows that within the first two seconds of talking with someone, a solid and accurate opinion is formed. “Impressions are based upon instinct and emotion, not on rational thought or in-depth investigation” says Jill Bremer of Bremer Communications. (Bremer)
Part of the reason that first impressions are so important is that they stick. Once a first impression is made, it is hard to undo the opinions formed. One of the reasons for this the fact that first impressions are often correct. After all, the subconscious is good at what it does. (Bremer) Also, Humans hate to admit when they are wrong and are always unconsciously looking for ways to validate their opinions. (Bremer) Therefore, it is very important to make a very good impression. One of the best ways to make a good first impression is to remember that the handshake is crucial. (Jensen) Also, it is important to determine what kind of impression needs to be made, then act accordingly, without going overboard. (Bremer) Speaking fluidly is also integral to making a good impression as it makes you sound more confident. (How to)
In addition to first-impressions, the subconscious also affects test scores. (Blink) The state of mind you are in is proven to affect your test scores. In one experiment, a random group of students was asked to spend 5 minuets thinking about what it would be like to be a professor and then write down everything that comes to mind. They were then asked to answer 42 demanding trivial pursuit questions. On average, they completed 55.6% of the questions correctly. Then a second group was asked to think about “soccer hooligans” for 5 minuets. On average, they completed 42.6% of the questions correctly. That is a 13% change in score! This means that your state of mind can have a profound effect on how well you score. Simply thinking smart thoughts can mean the difference between passing and failing a test. (Blink 56) Also, studies have shown that when asked to identify their race before a test, African Americans score, on average, half of what they would had they not been asked to identify their race. This is because, on a subconscious level, it brings to mind all of the bad stereotypes associated with African-Americans, changing the person’s state of mind. (Blink 56)
The subconscious even plays an important role in the way we shop. For example, a magazine once offered three subscription plans: The online edition for $59, the Print Edition for $125, and both editions combined for $125. The online only subscription plan accounted for 16% of the total sales. The dual subscription plan accounted for 125% of the sales. No one purchased the print only plan, so the company removed it. Then, sales of the online edition rose to 68% and the sales of both editions combined fell to 32% of the sales. The reason why sales changed so drastically is an example of the framing effect, which states that the way choices are presented to a person affects the way the person makes a decision. (Jepsen)
Another big way in which the subconscious affects the way we shop is packaging. The packaging of a product affects the way we perceive its taste. This is called sensation transference. (Blink 160) For example, taste tests show that the amount of yellow or green on a package of 7-up affects whether people taste more lemon or more lime. (Blink 163) This should serve as a strong indication as to how powerful the subconscious is. However, while sensation transference is powerful enough to affect the taste of a product, it cannot necessarily make a bad product seem to taste good. Sensation transference can also apply to more than food; the way a chair looks can make it seem more or less comfortable. (Blink 167)
It should be no surprise that marketing experts are trying to use the subconscious to make products seem more appealing. Since the packaging of a product affects how we perceive the taste, companies are designing the packages in a way that will make them seem more appealing. (Blink 160) To many this may seem like deception, but who is deceiving us, the company or our own minds? (Blink 165) According to Malcom Gladwell, an expert who has been studying the subconscious for years, “When we put something into our mouth and in that blink of an eye decide whether it tastes good or not, we are reacting not only to the evidence from our taste buds and salivary glands but also to the evidence from our eyes and memories and imaginations, and it is foolish of a company to service one dimension and ignore the other.” (Blink 165)
Another way marketing experts are using the subconscious is by using the framing affect to make products sound more appealing, called motivational appeals. For instance, a toothpaste company may try to use worry to get people to buy their product by saying things like “beware of tooth decay.” Some other examples of motivational appeals are prestige – this suit is a symbol of success – and quality – best produce in town. (Goldenson 54) The amazing thing is such tactics really work. For example, if a store wants to increase sells of a product, they can put a “sale” sign above the product, and its sales will rise. They don’t have to decrease the price; simply making people think they are getting a bargain is enough. (Tipping 60)
Marketing experts are also using new, and sometimes contreverial, methods to use the subconscious, called neuromarketing. “Rather than asking a person what they think of a product, the company gives people brain scans to find out how they respond to the product on a physiological level” (They’re Reading) They are actually measuring the brains responses to different products using a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or FMRI. (They’re Reading) The FMRI, which is typically used to detect brain tumors, measures blood flow to different part of the brain. By looking at where the blood is flowing, researchers can measure how people react to products. (They’re Reading) When a person sees a fancy sports car, it activates the right ventral striatum, the part of the brain activated by rewards. This indicates that the car represents a symbol of success to them. (They’re Reading) Many people fear that neuromarketing may eventually become a form of mind control, and the fact that the CIA is looking into using the same technology to create a foolproof method of lie detection does not help the matter at all. (They’re Reading) While this fear is certainly understandable, it is doubtful that it will ever become quite that powerful.
In conclusion, the subconscious plays a powerful role in our everyday life. Whenever we are around others, the subconscious is there to guide our behavior. Whenever we are interviewed for a job or we take a test, the subconscious is there to help or hinder us. Even seemingly simple tasks like shopping are influenced by the power of the subconscious. Its power will continue to amaze researchers for years to come. It is our most valuable ally, yet it can be our worst enemy. It constantly deceives us, yet without it, we would be lost. The mind is truly a wonderful thing!
-Bremer, Jill “The Power of First Impressions” Online – 27 Oct 2008
-Bower, Bruce. “The Mental Butler Did It” Science News 156.18 (Oct 30, 1999): 280
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-“How to Persuade People with Subconscious Techniques” Online – 27 Oct 2008
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