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Research / Desk Reference

Remarks by Eldon Taylor

for the Revised Issue (Winter 2000)


I have been involved in this field for 20 years and during that time, I have witnessed many changes in attitude and advances in science. As Bornstein so eloquently points out in his book, Empirical Perspectives on the Psychoanalytic Unconscious (1998), the question used to one of whether or not the unconscious was a smart unconscious, capable of reasoning, problem solving, hiding fears and developing strategies to avoid conflict and trauma.

Classically, this is the general perspective of psychoanalysis and it has been resisted by many since first advanced by Freud. As Bornstein puts it, "The point is that, from a clinical perspective, what is most important today about 'the psychoanalytic unconscious' is the hypothesis that wishes, fears, defenses, affects, and beliefs can be unconscious and that in their unconscious state, they can nevertheless have profound impact on ongoing conscious thought, feeling, and behavior...this is precisely the position supported by experimental data." (1998).

The fact is, today there is no question with regard to the so-called "smartness" of the unconscious mind. That is not to say that Freud had everything right, for the facts also show quite otherwise. Still, the unconscious is much more than the strictly cognitive model so popular in the eighties. It has both motives and affect orientation.

The unconscious influences behavior, mobilizes behavioral strategies, particularly those of avoidance and drive related needs, offers solutions to complex problems, and much more. This is no longer in question, except perhaps by those caught up in popular reports and ignorant of the literature. The unconscious learns differently than the conscious. One of the great proofs of this emerged from cognitive work with implicit memory.

Another major advance in understanding this mechanism has been contributed by the many neuroscientist now literally viewing the brain as it process information, goes about recall, executes motor skill commands and so forth. Given this work, there is also no longer a question about whether or not the unconscious learns in ways that are not available to the conscious mind, including subliminal communication. As Bornstein puts it, the "proposition about the importance of unconscious processes is now as close to 'fact' as any proposition in contemporary psychology." (1998).

What is now in question has more to do with the technical nature by which a subliminal stimulus is presented. For example, using audio means at what db differential do we find optimal masking without a decay in the stimuli (message)? Since there is no such thing as an absolute hearing threshold that applies to all people, then how do we produce portable audio materials that will work for most? Is this possible at all? Is it necessary to test individual thresholds before employing subliminal stimuli? This is much less of an issue with visual stimuli since there are methods that for normal vision subjects, whether natural or corrected vision, can deliver a subliminal stimulus in a reliable and easily replicatable manner.

There is also the issue regarding the verbal nature of stimuli. Assume that verbal stimuli can indeed impact behavior, as is more than adequately shown in the papers and proceedings that follow, then is there a quantitative and/or qualitative difference to the nature of the semantic content? The literature would definitely suggest so. Indeed, it would indicate that there may even be "magic bullets" like the subliminal psychodynamic activating (SPA) mommy message.

The questions for researchers today not only include the prior two issues, but those that provide true clinical utility. What effects and for how long--in what or how many domains?

In twenty years I have seen the subliminal communication issue come full around, from the panacea claims of the '70s through the "hoax and fraud" assertions of the '80s and early '90s to the documented and established views of this century. This does not mean that all forms of subliminal stimuli work some magic or miracle or even work at all. It does mean that serious researchers can now get on with the real work instead of the theoretical arguments and out right denials regarding an intelligent unconscious and its ability to learn from, or even process in some meaningful way, subliminal stimuli.

Subliminal Literature - >


Acknowledgements | Forward | Introduction | The Controversy
Understanding Subliminal | Subconscious Mind Power | History
Theoretical Models of Subliminal Perception | The Legal Status of Subliminal
Communication in America
| Remarks for the Revised Edition

Subliminal Literature Bibliography and Review


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