372 – What is the subliminal message?

I was mightily impressed with the Jen Reid, Black Lives Matter statue, created by artist Marc Quinn, that was put on to the Colston plinth in Bristol. He named the statue ‘A Surge of Power’. That got me thinking about the statues and the art, design and even architecture around us and the effect that it has on us subliminally, below our awareness.

The dictionary defines subliminal as ‘below the threshold of sensation or consciousness; perceived by or affecting someone’s mind without their being aware of it.’ It makes me wonder what subliminal effect the statue of Colston, as a slave trader, had on the generations that walked passed it?

At the same time Banksy was seen, or not seen in his outfit, putting his artwork in different places on the transport system. All his art carries subliminal messages. Just like advertisers and propagandists artist affect us below our awareness and effect our responses, behaviours and actions.

It took me back to a pod that we did on Nudging which is a modern subliminal way of affecting peoples behaviour below their awareness. This is mainly used in health and safety areas to encourage people to look after themselves. The rumble strips as you approach a roundabout get closer and closer together giving you the sensation that your car is speeding up. Your natural reaction is to slow down. No one has told you to slow down or asked you to slow down you have simply been nudged below you awareness into an action that makes you and other people safer.

Everyday we are nudged by others into doing what it is that we need or want us to do. These can be partners, children, siblings, friends, bosses and so on. If they are subtle we will not realise that we are being nudged. The question is, where does nudging end and manipulation begin? In reality we are all being subliminally nudged and manipulated. We only truly become aware of it when we stop long enough to look and listen to what is going on around us. This is also called mindfulness.

We are right in it at the moment as we are being encouraged to remain socially distanced at one to two metres. Every time you go into a shop there are strips of black a yellow tape showing use the distance that we should be at. Even the fact that it is black and yellow tape is a subliminal message. Poisonous animals in nature such as wasps, bees and snakes colour them selves black and yellow as a subliminal message to other creatures to leave them alone. The subliminal message is that it is dangerous to step over the line. Unless we are blind to it.

The same is true of wearing masks. The subliminal pictures are and will encourage us to use face coverings. The more effective the subliminal messaging the more people will wear the masks.

The Negative Bias

Evolutionary psychology explains that as we, indeed all beings on the planet, evolved we learned pretty early on that staying safe was a very good idea. This meant that we learned to pay more attention to the painful scary things than to the pleasurable things. This is known in psychology as the negative bias. We all know people who catastrophize events, make mountains out of mole hills and always seeing the worst possible outcomes, they are simply playing out the evolutionary negative bias to keep them self and those that they care about safe.

But there is another negative bias that subliminally effects our actions in this pandemic. These are the messages that are put out by the nay sayers. On my social media feeds there are plenty of people that do not believe that Covid 19 actually exists they see it as a conspiracy by ‘them’, who ever ‘they’ are, to control ‘us’, whoever ‘we’ are. I am unsure about the conspiracy theories though I am very sure about the effect that Covid 19 is having on my colleagues in the NHS.

There are two things here. The first is, do you believe that there is a virus or not? The second is that, whatever you belief how do you know what you know? Either way most of what you believe or feel about Covid 19 you will have assimilated it subliminally. The same is also true about your beliefs and action towards climate change. Is it just a fluctuation in the natural weather cycles or are we heading for a climate disaster? Are plastics the scourge that will decimate sea life and destroy the natural food cycles? Or, is it okay to keep on using plastics and dumping them in the ocean? All these questions right down to ‘Back Lives Matter’ are issues that we are being fed information about, subliminally, all the time.

Security and behaviour

Our behaviour is based around our need for security, for our need  to feel safe or normal. This can make us vulnerable to be nudged by any subliminal message that might make us feel insecure or threatened. The easiest way to control people is to feed them negative subliminal messages that engender fear.

Mindfulness is the only option that we have to become truly aware of who we are and what we are doing and also to be aware of others and what exactly they are up to. My stock phrase is ‘what is the sound behind their words? What do they really mean when they said that?’ ‘Can I take what they are saying at face value?’

In mindful awareness we live in a world of choice and if we are being subliminally nudged, but we are mindful enough to be aware of it, we might choose to enjoy it and see where it takes us. After all life is about learning?

Take care and be happy (that is a subliminal nudge by the way)

Sean X (so is the X that infers that I care without actually saying it)

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