The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'suggestion'
Psychology experiments have shown that subliminal exposure to brands can prime people with the attributes those brands have cultivated. For example, when students were exposed to either an Apple or IBM logo and asked to list all the uses for a brick they could imagine, the Apple ("creativity, noncomformity") group came up with significantly more than the IBM ("tradition, responsibility") group. In a subsequent experiment, candidates primed with the Disney logo behaved more honestly than those primed with the logo of E! Channel (which, I believe, is a celebrity-gossip cable-TV channel in the US).
The practical consequences of this are interesting: if this is to be taken at face value then, by the sheer power of subliminal conditioning and marketing, brands do have magical properties, and branded products would perform better than physically identical unbranded ones. A brand logo is a macro, a tightly-encoded package of ideas, instantaneously decoded by appropriately conditioned consumers (and that means all of us; given the studies showing that young children learn to recognise brands before they learn to read), and priming has been shown to work. (In one experiment (previously mentioned here), students were asked to sort words, and then surreptitiously timed as they walked down the corridor on leaving. Those given words relating to old age—including, memorably, "Florida"—walked more slowly than those given youth-related words. Another experiment showed that exposure to alcohol-related words increased men's sex drive.)
Putting these facts together, it seems that using an Apple computer would make you more creative, even if you work in the same version of Microsoft Word you could as easily use on Windows, though so would having an Apple iPod, and Nike shoes could make you run faster than generic trainers of exactly the same composition, and so on. It's not necessarily even limited to brands, but could extend to any perceptible medium associated with qualities or values. It'd be interesting to see whether, for example, if one took two groups of students and, after surreptitiously exposing half of them to Belle & Sebastian and the other half to 50 Cent, asked them to play a game, whether members of one group would be more aggressive or competitive than the other.
Anyway, this finding could be seen as a justification for big brands' steep markups of otherwise average products: they're not exploiting a gullible public, they're selling the psychological magic of their brand. Though if you don't want to pay the markup, you could just as easily clip ads out of papers and tape them around your cubicle/kitchen/locker/wherever, which might get you a similar result, at the risk of making you look like a tragic. Just keep reminding yourself that you're not a gullible dupe or an unpaid human billboard, but a cunningly rebellious pirate, sticking it to The Man by stealing his magic without paying.
I wonder, though, whether candidates subliminally exposed to craptacular knockoffs of Apple products would experience a boost of creativity or a drop in IQ.
It has been well known that alcohol causes many men to find women more attractive than they otherwise would (the effect is colloquially known as "beer goggles"). Now, researchers have found that actual alcohol isn't even required; exposure to alcohol-related words is enough; at least among men who expect that alcohol has that effect.
First, the subjects answered questionnaires that asked whether they thought alcohol affected their sex drive. Afterward, the men were divided into two groups and placed next to computers. One group was shown words that described alcohol, such as liquor, beer and keg. The other group saw words like water, soda and coffee.
The researchers found that the group of men who expected alcohol to enhance their sex drive found the women in the photos more attractive after viewing the alcohol cue words. The group that expected alcohol to reduce their sex drive found the women to be less attractive.
This echoes another priming experiment (reported in both Mind Hacks and Malcolm Gladwell's Blink), in which students surreptitiously exposed to old-age-related words like "wrinkled", "senior" and "Florida" were found to walk more slowly down a corridor than those not primed in this way.
A look at the U.S. Secret Service's tools for breaking encryption on seized data. Not surprisingly, they use a network of distributed machines to help brute-force keys. Cleverly enough, before they do so, they assemble a custom dictionary of potential keys/starting points from all data on the seized machine (including files, web browsing histories, and presumably terminology associated with the areas of interest visited web sites relate to). (via /.)
"If we've got a suspect and we know from looking at his computer that he likes motorcycle Web sites, for example, we can pull words down off of those sites and create a unique dictionary of passwords of motorcycle terms," the Secret Service's Lewis said.
Hansen recalled one case several years ago in which police in the United Kingdom used AccessData's technology to crack the encryption key of a suspect who frequently worked with horses. Using custom lists of words associated with all things equine, investigators quickly zeroed in on his password, which Hansen says was some obscure word used to describe one component of a stirrup.
This technique apparently works surprisingly well, because people (including organised criminals) tend to choose relatively predictable passwords.
The moral of this story is: if you're planning the perfect crime using computers and encryption, you may find it wise to develop an obscure interest and not mention it by electronic means. Or, for that matter, let it show up in credit card receipts, library records, personal effects, or any other information the authorities could get. Which could be trickier than it sounds.
Also on the subject of people subconsciously giving away more than they think: this IHT article on "psychological illusionist" Derren Brown (via bOING bOING):
He produces a sheet of blank paper and issues an instruction: Draw a picture. "Try to catch me out; make it a bit obscure," he orders. "Don't draw a house; don't draw a stick man." Walking to another room and out of sight, he decrees that the picture should be concealed until the end of the interview - whereupon, he claims, he will reveal what it is.
Recently, he said, he used his talents to defuse a situation in which an aggressive youth approached him on the street, yelling, "What are you looking at?" (Brown responded with a rapid series of diversionary non sequiturs, he said; the man burst into tears.)
Instructing me to concentrate, he pulls out a blank sheet of paper and begins sketching, chatting all the while. He tells me he "sees" a conical shape with spots on it - some sort of decorated lamp with a blob on top. And knock me down if he does not produce a near-exact replica of my drawing, the only differences being that his has more dots than mine, and his stripes are horizontal, not vertical.
Channel 4 has a Derren Brown microsite here, with streaming video and explanations of some of the tricks (such as making people fall asleep in phone booths). Think of it as the human equivalent of the buffer overrun attack.
Researchers at Victoria University in New Zealand have found that being drunk is partly in the mind. A group of students were given water to drink in a pub-like environment; half were told it was vodka, and the other half were told the truth. The candidates were then shown slides of a crime and asked to assess a story full of misleading information. The students who thought they were drinking vodka had poorer memory and were more suggestible and less reliable as witnesses.
(Which shows that if you believe (from external evidence) that you should be drunk or perceptually impaired, your brain will go out of its way to induce this state, to the point of subconsciously degrading your perception appropriately. Which makes one wonder: what proportion of people's inabilities to achieve various things is the result of suggestion or conditioning, with no physical basis?)