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Dana Leidl | z3418452
Vivienne Tye | z3376509
Katherine Nguyen | z3375040
Nhi Tuyet Nguyen | z3375919
2. Neuroscientific context
2.1 Subliminal messages
2.3 Brain areas
2.5 Placebo effect
3. Critical analysis
The chosen media item is an online video infomercial. It is a paid, interview style advertisement presented by its creator, Tony Dosanjh, promoting the lifestyle computer program ‘Mind Master’ to its audience. Having come across this video on ‘YouTube’ the Mind Master infomercial is easily accessible and globally available for public viewing, although the product and advertisement originated in the USA.
Mind Master is a computer program that claims to ‘condition the subconscious mind’ through the use of subliminal messaging to help the user achieve their desired goals. Tony Dosanjh is a Business and Economics graduate, who worked in the banking and finance industry for a number of years before turning his attention to personal development and online marketing. Tony’s interest and experience in both the business and personal development industries culminated in the creation of the very successful ‘Mind Master’ program.
‘Mind Master’ works by flashing the user with positive personalised affirmation and images on their personal computer to encourage their tailored change and self-development. The product uses subliminal messaging to in order to help the user achieve their desired goals. That is, the images and messages are able to be flashed in
them virtually invisible and undetectable to the conscious brain. However, is it claimed that the messages are registered by the ‘subconscious brain’, which works in powerful ways to help the user achieve their desired goals.
Common personal uses for ‘Mind Master’ include weight loss, self-esteem and confidence boosting and quitting smoking, among many others. In addition to this, ‘Mind Master’ hasbeen adopted and endorsed by professionals such as psychiatrists, personal development coaches, athletes, natural healers and medical doctors for use in a variety of professional contexts.
An easy to use program, Mind Master can be individually tailored to the needs of each user. The subliminal messages and images are unique to each individual and what they hope to achieve – for example, the user can change the frequency, duration and size of the text and images that are flashed on their computer screens.
The chosen media item ‘Mind Master’ was brought to our attention by Dana and sparked the collective interest of our group - the concept of subliminal messaging was very intriguing. This type of product is highly relevant to today’s bustling, competitive society where time is short and people are constantly seeking personal improvement. Furthermore, the continuous development of such products is most definitely a reflection of the ever changing values and culture of 21st century society.
Essentially, ‘Mind Master’ is a lifestyle managementtool. The creation and use of programs such as ‘Mind Master’ further highlights the growing trust and interdependence of society on technological means that simultaneously aid, simplify and enhance our lives.
The product is supported and endorsed by numerous professionals in various different fields. For example, Mind Master comes with medical professional Dr Casaccio's support and recommendation. Testimonials such as Dr Casaccio’s appear in the infomercial informing viewers of the benefits and successfulness of ‘Mind Master’.
The numerous testimonials and cases mentioned in the media item supposedly claim that subliminal messages and Mind Master to be very successful.
However, our research reveals that there is inconclusive evidence on the true effects of subliminal messages.
The absence of solid evidence to prove either side of the case of the effectiveness of subliminal messages was overwhelming. Thus, our research presents findings from both perspectives.
2. Neuroscientific Context
Mind master claims to make use of subliminal messaging to help the user achieve their desired goals and as subliminal messaging is the central focus, the understanding of consciousness and attention is required.
2.1 Subliminal messages
Subliminal messaging affects the brain by stimulation below the threshold of consciousness, where consciousness refers to the awareness of mental events allowing the active control and regulation of behaviour and thoughts. Controversy exists surrounding the brain areas associated with consciousness, whereby some argue that it depends on the thalamus and brain stem, while others say it depends on early visual areas, or pre-frontal and parietal association areas (Dehaene et al. 2006). Factors that influence conscious access is vigilance (being awake rather than asleep), bottom-up activation and the “extension of brain activation to higher association cortices interconnected by long-distance connections and forming a reverberating neuronal assembly with distant perceptual areas”, according to Dehaene et al. (2006)
Attention involves focusing conscious awareness requiring the brain to process information at a higher level in comparison to simply being aware of a stimulus (Burton, W. K., 2006). Conscious perception of the world cannot occur without attention (Dehaene et al. 2006). The mechanism by which subliminal stimulation works is via the stimulation of the brain below the threshold of awareness contrary to supraliminal stimulation, which occurs above the threshold.
Subliminal processing is defined by Deheane and colleagues (2006) as a condition where information is unable to be accessed, whereby bottom-up activation is inadequate and as a result, triggering of a large-scale reverberating state within a network of neurons is not possible. Subliminal processing corresponds to weak activation that rapidly dies out.
The use of subliminal stimuli may have many purposes and can be used in various different forms such as television programs, radio broadcasts, musical works and any visual or auditory stimuli that can be perceived by the brain. Its uses in advertising have one key purpose, which is to influence a consumer to purchase a service or product. Messages claimed to be found in television programs or musical works may have the intentions of the creator, to have the viewer or listener behave in a certain way or in some cases in the past (such as the John Priest trial) to commit suicide or worship Satan. Other programs that make use of subliminal stimuli, such as Mind Master, claim to subliminally influence the brain to alter negative behaviours and make lifestyle improvements.
A neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience University College London, Bahador Bahrami, found during an experiment involving a group of volunteers viewing a computer screen with three dimensional-like glasses (one red, one blue lens), that subliminal messages leave an impression on the brain whilst conducting. Faint subliminal images of everyday objects were shown to one eye whereas the other eye received quick flashes of colourful and powerful images. Magnetic resonance imaging brain scans revealed that the faint subliminal images were also registered by the brain, although the volunteers were only aware of and only detected the powerful flashing images.
Bahador Bahrami also suggested that the complexity of the action, while being subjected to subliminal messages, will alter the outcome of the effect. Complex mental tasks requiring more focus and attention may not register subliminal images at all whereas simple tasks (e.g. watching the television with subliminal images added) have increased chances of a more pronounced effect.
As Dr Bahrami says, "If the brain is busy ... it can filter out those subliminal things," meaning that subliminal activations can be significantly reduced with increased concentration on a task.
Although Dr Bahrami’s research reveals the existence of a relation between the brain and its ability to register subliminal stimli, there still remains little evidence to confirm that subliminal messages act as a neural stimulus that unconsciously alters a participant’s behaviour and predilection. In saying so, subliminal messaging in ‘Mind Master’ could be true in terms of information registration, however “life changing” behavioural occurrences for participants have not been entirely proven in other research done elsewhere
The topic of subliminal messaging remains one of controversy as the true effects of these hidden messages are not completely understood by researchers, let alone, consumers.
Subliminal messaging was noted in the late 1950s by James Vicary, a United States market researcher, in a study where viewers of a movie were subjected to subliminal advertising by the repeated flashing of two messages “Drink Coca-Cola” and, “Hungry? Eat Popcorn”. The flashing of the messages for 1/3000th of a second in a movie was believed to have stimulated the viewers' desire for these items. Vicary then claimed publicly that the sales for Coca-Cola and popcorn had increased after this event took place and the results he produced were published in many magazines such as New Yorker and Nation. From this point onwards, ideas (many of which were irrational) regarding the effect subliminal messages on behaviour spread throughout society. For example, individuals were afraid that the use of this type of stimuli would be used to the government's advantage to manipulate society. As a result, codes of practice were introduced to prohibit the specific use of subliminal messaging in any form. Although Vicary claimed to have successfully used subliminal persuasion, his claims are still heavily criticised today as many alternative researchers discredit the effectiveness of subliminal messaging.
2.3 Brain Areas
To understand how visual subliminal messages work, we need to explore the connections that exist between the eyes and how it is related to relaying messages to the brain. The brain area activated by the subliminal messages is thought to be the primary visual cortex - an area that obtains initial information from the retina.
About the Eye:
he eye plays an integral part of the first stage of stimulus recognition.
The lens focuses incoming light onto the retina which converts the image formed by the light into nerve impulses. The optic nerve then transmits the impulses from the eye to the visual relay in the brain. This would provide an explanation of how the eye detects the subliminal messaging from ‘Mind Master’ and relays it to the brain to process what is seen (Zimmer, 2012).
Optic Nerve Targets:
Acting as the pathway carrying nerve impulses from the eyes to the structures in the brain, the optic nerve of both eyes arise from the optic discs intersecting at the optic chiasm. Decussation can occur between some axons from the retinas, switching sides allowing visual signals to be cross processed (Dubuc, 2002).
The axons of each retina cross sides in the optic chiasm. As the visual information reaches the temporal side of each retina the axons from this side of the retina do not need to cross over – information initially comes from the opposite side of the visual field. The visual information proceeds through the optic tract where a majority of nerve fibres project to the lateral geniculate nucleus in the thalamus. The laternal geniculate nucleus is the main relay to the primary visual cortex and its projection to the visual cortex is the optic radiation (Goodale, 2004).
The primary visual cortex (also known as the striate cortex – V1) is where the brain begins to reorganise the image from the retina and is located in the most posterior portion in the brain’s occipital lobe.
V1 sends a large proportion of its connections to the secondary visual cortex (V2) with most of the neurons in V2 having properties similar to the neurons in the primary visual cortex (Ts'o, 2009).
The analysis of visual stimuli that begins in the primary and secondary cortexes continue through two major cortical systems for processing visual information:
1. the ventral pathway extending to the temporal lobe - involved in recognising objects.
2. the dorsal pathway projecting to the parietal lobe - essential for locating objects (Goodale, 2010)
The Conscious and Subconscious Mind:
The human brain is composed of the conscious and subconscious mind which work together to form your thoughts, feelings and responses to everyday situations in life. The conscious mind is the creative communication centre responsible for voluntary actions and decisions in your everyday living and can register emotions and feeling (Guzeldere, 1997).
The subconscious mind works behind the scenes as the storage bank of everything that is experienced in a lifetime so that when a memory is needed, you will subconsciously be able to access the information that is stored previously. Our subconscious mind is what we are programmed with to remember so it comes with the notion that everything is accepted and stored without discrimination (Honderich, 2005).
A decision made in the conscious mind would be made based on the information stored in the subconscious region which may contain both positive and negative influences. Scientific studies argue that habits are formed from our positive and negative influences so if the subconscious mind is intentionally programmed with positive thoughts it is believed that the conscious mind would soon follow and obtain positive results.
The 'Mind Master' program incorporates the idea of reprogramming the subconscious mind to generate a new collection of positive thoughts through the exposure of subliminal visual messages. These visual stimulus are thought to run through the visual cortexes for the brain to register and store the information into our subconscious without our awareness.
2.4 Effectiveness of Mind Master
The Mind Master website outlines over 20 studies in favour of subliminal messaging as a means of meaningful lifestyle change, from reducing alcoholism (Shurtman, 1982) to boosting learning (Cook, 1985). However, other research shows that the effects of subliminal messaging are not long lasting and can also not substantially affect the motives of an individual (Burton, 2006) or rather they canno
ffect a persons
motive beyond their original intentions (Ansorge, 2002). If the program is used as intended then indeed, the subliminal messages will match the individuals intentions, and contrary to numerous studies the program will have a meaningful effect. But is it the program creating the change? To discriminate between the many variables in the success of the program, it is important to examine the actual mechanisms of the use of Mind Master outlined in the table below.
The effects of subliminal messaging manifest between steps 4 and 5. During stage 4, the images/phrases chosen by the customer are set to appear on the screen at such a speed that they are below the threshold of conscious recognition but slow enough to be registered outside of awareness.
Successful applications of Mind Master, as discussed in the advertisement include participants successfully quitting s
moking and losing weight. However, the means of weight loss is not detailed and successful quitting of smoking was mainly associated with a decrease in nicotine cravings. It is expected that these changes are long lasting and will affect future decision-making and lead to the customer achieving their goals. However, stage 5 is not definitively scientifically supported with no evidence to suggest that brain plasticity is affected and that the brain is 're-wired'.
While steps 4 and 5 are pivotal to the alleged effectiveness of the product, in order to asses how Mind Master fits into a broader scientific context, steps 1, 2 and 3 are critically important. The majority of studies where subliminal messages have not had a lasting effect have been short term trials in which the subject was unaware of the messages shown and the intentions of such conditions. In the use of Mind Master, the subject is a customer who has chosen the messages and is therefore fully aware of what their subconscious is seeing and the intended effect. Furthermore, the nature of the steps outlined indicates that the customer wants to achieve their goals and has already taken steps to do so by purchasing Mind Master. This level of personal motivation may extend into other areas of their life without the real help of Mind Master in achieving their desired goals.
2.5 Placebo effect
A simulated and theoretically ineffectual treatment in experimental procedures is known as a ‘placebo’. Individuals given a placebo treatment may display perceived or actual results in response to the given stimulus. This phenomenon relies on the fact that participants are aware of the treatment and is commonly referred to as the ‘placebo effect’. Placebos are designed to act as a type of experimental control so that the actual results can be determined
The placebo stimulus may engage different areas of the brain such as the frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal lobes on a multitude of levels regarding the perception and visual recognition of the stimuli, cognitive processing and memory.
As Archie Cochrane noted, "It is important to distinguish the very respectable, conscious use of placebos. The effect of placebos has been shown by randomised controlled trials to be very large. Their use in the correct place is to be encouraged …".
The fact that Mind Master customers may be aware of the use of the program inherently undermines its potential success and effectiveness. Thus, it may be argued that results could largely be attributed to the placebo effect rather than the successfulness of the program itself.
‘Mind Master’ claims to provide the user with subconscious levels of support to help aid their success in achieving their desired goals. The target audience for ‘Mind Master’ is people who are looking for new and effective mediums of support to do just that. The access to Mind Master requires regular access to a personal computer and a method of online payment, such as a credit card. The target audience is therefore those who fit into these three categories.
The infomercial explicitly states that it is a ‘paid advertisement’, which inherently undermines its credibility and purpose. The paid advertisement is an appropriate form of publicity for ‘Mind Master’ and is undeniably presented in a biased light, with a stronger commercial pitch than presentation of pure scientific information. However, the fact that the advertisement uses the basis of neuroscientific principles in order to legitimise the product and persuade consumers cannot be ignored. The simplification of information as a result of this effective marketing strategy to engage the target audience consequently compromises the veracity of neuroscientific principles upon which the advertisement was based.
The interview style commercial between the presenter and Tony Dosanjh is highly scripted in fashion, promoting the benefits and successful attributes of the product. The advertisement does not discuss any potential reservations or failures of the product.
It is clear that this form of advertising targets a vulnerable and perhaps gullible personality type, utilising a multitude of commercial marketing techniques to persuade the viewer.
The success and effectiveness of this infomercial can be vastly attributed the various marketing techniques employed by the advertisement that make it very accessible to its audience. Firstly, the language used throughout the advertisement is highly accessible, and scientific principles are explained very simply, in easy to understand language. This enables a wider audience base to be reached. In addition to this, the target audience is successfully engaged by the advertisement’s use of inclusive language and personal, relatable anecdotes – ‘You’, ‘Me’, ‘We’, ‘Many of you at home…just like me’ etc.
The use of encompassing language is coupled with the use of hyperbolic language, ‘powerful’, ‘changed my entire life’, ‘greatest creative force known to man’. In addition to this, scientific jargon has been unreservedly used in order to add scientific credibility to the advertisement and persuade the target audience to purchase the product. For example, ‘subconscious mind’ and ‘subliminal messages’.
The ‘Mind Master’ advertisement also utilises inspirational sounding music to enhance the message being delivered, which further supports the notion that the advertisement and topic is of a highly subjective and sensationalised nature.
The advertisement also uses real-life user and psychiatrist testimonials to persuade the target audience. Moreover, potential buyers are further encouraged to purchase the product by the offer of bonuses. For example, ‘‘buy it now for a dollar trial’ and ‘buy now and receive a bonus offer’.
This appeal to the audience’s pathos is a widely used and effective marketing strategy.
The ease of use and installation of the program, specifically tailored to suit the participants needs, is also highlighted and shown by the shown in the image below which was taken from the 'Mind Master' website mentioned in the infomercial. This is a deliberate strategy that enhances the product's buyer appeal.
However, the messages conveyed in the advertisement don’t always agree with current accepted understanding in neuroscience. The infomercial discusses selective scientific issues that favour the success of subliminal messaging. However, according to the majority of our research, subliminal messaging isn’t credibly scientifically supported.
It is difficult to argue against the fact that the chosen media item, an advertisement for ‘Mind Master’, is a highly effective and successful advertisement. The infomercial, presented by Mind Master’s creator Tony Dosanjh, effectively engages its target audience and successfully delivers its intended message through its use of various language, visual and auditory techniques. The audience is sufficiently informed of ‘Mind Master’ – how it works, its scientific credentials, real-life testimonials by users and professionals, how to purchase it etc.
While the purpose of the advertisement, to promote the ‘Mind Master’ product, has been successfully achieved, it has come at the detriment of the holistic presentation of scientific principles and findings. The ‘Mind Master’ infomercial selectively uses key scientific points that support the product but does not address any scientific findings that dismiss the success and effectiveness of subliminal messaging.
Ultimately, it is not realistic to maintain an equal balance between successfully promoting and conveying true scientific theories, as the advertisement for ‘Mind Master’ demonstrates. It is a successful advertisement for various reasons discussed above but cannot be credited as a reliable source of neuroscientific information on subliminal messaging.
First Group Meeting (UNSW Main Library) - 14th August
Mid-semester Break Group Meeting - 4th September
The chosen media item was the result of Dana’s keen interest in neuroscience. She had showed us a couple of very interesting YouTube videos on various neuroscientific topics such as the effect of drugs, the meaning of life and brain training. We were also very interested in researching the general neuroscientific work of Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and published author, but after group discussions we opted for a more specific topic and specialised approach to this group task.
Eventually, it was decided that the ‘Mind Master’ infomercial would be our chosen media item, as we thought that it was the most relevant and applicable media item to our current society. It was clear that there was a specific target audience for the ad and a specific aspect of neuroscience that we could focus on. The personal intrigue of subliminal messaging and its effects/success was also a major factor in choosing this media item.
In addition to this, Dr. Vickery’s comments ‘Very cool. Looks like a great topic…Go for it!’ were very encouraging and supportive – it was nice to know that our group project was heading in the right direction.
Ultimately, it was a combination of all these different factors that convinced is that this media item was a good choice for our group assignment.
Our research strategies for this report were varied. It must be noted that we found it quite difficult to find academically credible information on this very sensational, subjective and in this case highly commercialised topic. A lot of the material we came across was horridly biased.
Our research tools varied and included internet search engines, library databases for scientific papers and the course textbook. Given the biased nature of this neuroscientific topic, we aimed to keep our selection methods fairly consistent, choosing to use only relevant information with academic integrity. However, it was very useful having all the extra background knowledge and contextual understanding that less credible sources provided us with.
The comments provided to us by our peers were highly constructive and very beneficial in helping with our final editing process - It was great to get objective perspectives on our wikipage. Our peers thought that we chose an interesting topic that highlighted the use of science for commercial market manipulation purposes. Thanks, guys!
All reviewers commended the easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing layout of our page, noting in particular our good choice of pictures, subheadings, paragraphing and font. The general consensus from our reviewers was that our group communicated relevant information well and had a particularly well-written introduction and critical analysis.
However, it was collectively noted by our peers that our neuroscientific context needed some extra work, with suggestions for us to make stronger connections between subliminal messaging and the affected areas of the brain and discuss the effectiveness of Mind Master in a bit more detail. Furthermore, minor editing issues regarding spelling, grammar and sentence structure were brought up. The constructive criticism was taken on board and greatly appreciated.
We thoroughly reviewed the feedback comments and discussed (as a group) how we were going to address the comments. All comments were taken into consideration and our page was edited accordingly. As a group, we knew what our page’s strong points and weaknesses were and definitely agreed with most of the comments made. We addressed all the comments made, as they were all relevant. Further research was done and we extended the neuroscientific context section with respect to the reviewers’ comments. A large bulk of the reviewer comments were in regards to editing issues – to address this we reviewed our entire page and made any necessary adjustments to spelling, grammar and sentence structure for a more coherent and grammatically correct wikipage. We also changed our references so that only one referencing style was used, in response to our reviewers’ comments.
Overall, the all reviewers’ comments were applicable and very useful to us. We took them all into consideration and addressed them appropriately; we did not entirely dismiss any suggestion made to us.
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