July 31, 2007

Well, then, what's the effect of a political argument made while showing cleavage?

Here's a useful article on the way the mind is affected on a subliminal level by things that have nothing to do with what you think you're thinking about:
New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” — all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.

Psychologists say that “priming” people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives that people already have.

More fundamentally, the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.
Read the whole thing. And wake up to the manipulation that's all around you.


J. Cricket said...

wake up to the manipulation that's all around you

I look at this blog regularly, so how could I miss it?!

Faux outrage, faux tears, and manipulations of every sort--all to make Althouse look good.

Don't worry, we see though it.

Meade said...

"Don't worry, we see though it."

Thanks to our ever-vigilant AJD army of one.

Christy said...

Chaos theory convinced me 20 years ago that we have no free will. This just reinforces.

rhhardin said...

are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.

That's pretty standard brain-explainer talk. It works by importing the idea of writing, in the image of a program ; and the imported idea of writing accesses the idea of meaning, which is what needs to be connected to.

``Brain wiring'' is another sort of writing for the same purpose.

That purpose, it should be stressed, is not to deceive the listener, but to deceive the speaker. It makes it seem to him that he's arrived at an explanation.

Do away, mentally, with the idea of significance via the writing in the program or the wiring, and it stands pretty bare as a non-explanation.

``Writing'' works by importing the metaphor of langauage, which is what you want to arrive at.

Freud has a lot of attempts to explain how the brain works (``has to work''), marked chiefly by starting over to clarify earlier remarks, and feeling he's going in a circle but not quite seeing why.

Brain explainers today don't see the problem either.

People respond to ordinary situations, and it's largely unnoticed (Kenneth Burke has a nice catalog of the unconscious in Language as Symbolic Action, as to what would count as unconscious). You get comedy when a scientist begins to explain it, not noticing that doing science is a fairly refined part of the repertiore he ought to be explaining.

Mostly when scientists do it, their language goes on holiday, as their subjects are deprived of the contexts they normally operate in.

phosphorious said...

If Hillary's "cleavage" were a matter of unconscious manipulation, then we wouldn't be talking about it; it would go unnoticed.

First conservatives hyperventilated over her breasts. . .now they are spending their time arguing that their hyperventilation was perfectly justified. . .breasts matter in a subliminal, psycho-semiotic kind of way. But also they'r not accusing Hillary of anything. . .manipulation is all around us.

It's just we'll focus on Hillary as our favorite example.

These are the people who brought us Bush. . .

Ann Althouse said...

Who hyperventilated? The only hyperventilation I was in reaction to Robin Givhan's completely rational analysis of a phenomenon observed in the real world. Your comment is an example.

Galvanized said...

I get so much out of articles like this one - priming, subliminal manipulation, association. It's as though the article says that there are two individuals in all of us -- one dealing in interaction - verbal and nonverbal - with one's environment, and the other (the brain processing subliminal cues) that takes in/reacts to stimuli outside of one's interaction. This is true, with some of us more following the "head" than the "heart." Maybe each person's personality is deeply affected by which side he mostly follows.

(An aside - to this day, the smell of Pinesol just freaks me out and is a negative subliminal cue in any situation.)

TMink said...

"Psychologists say that “priming” people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives that people already have."

I agree that it is not a form of hypnotism, but it is absolutely a form of subliminal seduction. That is why we get a haircut before a big interview, or tidy before the inlaws visit, or shower right before a date. It is all impression management and socially people who do not engage in it are regarded as odd or eccentric.

But stating that the process is not what it most certainly is strikes me as foolishness.


Methadras said...

Mistaking cleavage for whatever message Hillary brings to bear is one and the same. A momentary look at the cleavage and who it's attached too and a look at the message and who the messenger is. One and the same, so while you look at the cleavage, do you really care what the message is? But by the time you peel your eyes away and engage your ears to the message, do you really care what she's saying because you know inherently that it's wrong?

Hillary's message is like saying that there are tits on a boar. There are several entendres there I think.

Anonymous said...


hdhouse said...

geeeze all this talk about Hillary's boobs...I'm more concerned about some boob wearing a flight jacket......

Anonymous said...

The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal . . . is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.
—Adlai Stevenson

How earnest and positively Victorian of Mr. Stevenson, and one reason he never became President.  You can be damn sure modern candidates have no such scruples, or even the vaguest idea of the old-fashioned politics of the sort Mr. Stevenson grew up with.  We now have psychological operations.  I suppose torchlight parades, stump speeches, party machines and the ward heeler were the psychological operations of their day, if you count cash changing hands and the odd knock on the head as "psychological."

You know, I've been reading about psychological manipulation as long as I can remember, and I'm two years older than Althouse.  I was a little surprised by the short shrift given in the Times article to previous research. The piece only touched in passing, for example, on subliminal advertising, and then only to mention that it was discredited.  I don't have references available, but I recall when I was in college reading quite a bit about the kinds of psychological techniques the article mentions.  It may be modern research is more sophisticated and takes into account recent knowledge about the brain, etc., but it seems that a lot of these things have been understood for a long time.

The first popular book that described the methods of psychological manipulation was The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard.  I recall reading it when I was 14 or so, and it seemed in those palmy Kennedy days to suddenly explain the ocean of advertising we all swam in.  When Vance Packard died in 1996, Salon ran this perceptive semi-obituary.  Fast forwarding a bit, here is a more recent piece in Salon titled, "The Return of the Hidden Persuaders."

A lot of what Vance Packard writes seems commonplace and over-hyped today.  He also was not particularly interested in "sub-threshold" effects of the sort that the Times piece is concerned with.  That said, he was the first to try to explain the "manipulation that's all around you" to the American public.

But back to our famous Althousian topic of Mrs. Clinton's cleavage:
Although I personally could care less about a few centimeters more or less of Mrs. Clinton's d├ęcolletage, you are living in a dream world if you don't think her appearance has been carefully calibrated for each time she's seen in public, and subjected to advance psychological testing to determine the "sub-threshold" effects of her clothing and everything about her person.  I would expect no less of a competent candidate for President of the United States.  And Mrs. Clinton is nothing if not competent.

I must say one of the charms of Rudy Giuliani is how unaffected and out-of-control he seems by contrast.  But Rudy's being out-of-control is a subject for another discussion and quite another kind of psychology.