People can perceive subliminal messages, particularly if the message is negative, according to a UK study.
In three experiments at University College London, participants were briefly shown masked words and asked to classify them as emotional or neutral.
The study, published in the journal Emotion, says being able to react to tiny cues helps us to avoid danger and may have useful marketing uses.
But critics say there is no evidence this would work outside a laboratory. …
They were able to accurately categorise 66% of the negative words compared to 50% of the positive ones.
Professor Lavie said: “We have shown that people can perceive the emotional value of subliminal messages and have demonstrated conclusively that people are much more attuned to negative words.
“Clearly, there are evolutionary advantages to responding rapidly to emotional information.
“We can’t wait for our consciousness to kick in if we see someone running towards us with a knife or if we drive under rainy or foggy weather conditions and see a sign warning ‘danger’.
Subliminal advertising is not permitted on television in the UK.
But Professor Lavie said her work could be applicable to marketing campaigns: “Negative words may have more of a rapid impact – “Kill Your Speed” should work better than “Slow Down”.