Can Subliminal Messages Create Feelings of Love and Lust?

Using priming to trigger romance and desire

Posted Jun 29, 2015

Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor

True to the name of this blog, over the years I have discussed many methods for increasing feelings of attraction and desire. I have, for example, shared how behaviors such as extended eye contact can make you more alluring, how social touching can make others want you more, and when playing hard to get boosts desire

All of those methods, however, have been fairly overt and deliberate. They require your chosen partner to pay attention, be aware of what you are doing, and have some thoughts about it (at least a bit). As I reviewed those deliberate techniques, I began to wonder—is it possible to make a person more attractive in more covert and unconscious ways?

Well, recent research suggests the answer may be yes...

Research on Automatic Priming of Love and Lust

Work by Carpentier, Northup, and Parrott (2014) supports the notion that stimuli in the environment can automatically trigger feelings of attraction and desire, which can then affect judgment of potential romantic partners. Specifically, the researchers first asked participants to play a game online to distract them. During the game, they were also exposed to website banner advertisements in the periphery that depicted romantic kissing, showed suggestive sexuality, or were empty. After completing the game (and being exposed to the ads), participants then judged the attractiveness of various strangers by viewing their dating, social networking, or professional networking profiles.

Results indicated that participants exposed to the advertisements of kissing or sexuality later found the strangers more attractive than individuals who were exposed to blank advertisements only. Particularly, participants whose emotions were triggered with the suggestive ads found the strangers significantly more sexy, alluring, attractive, charming, and seductive. Thus, participants' first romantic and sexual impressions of a stranger appeared to be influenced by feelings of desire triggered by an incidental advertisement.

In another article, the same researchers looked at additional ways to trigger feelings of love and lust in participants (Carpentier, Parrott, & Northup, 2104). In this series of experiments, participants were first asked to complete a word-search task. The words searched for in the game were either romantic in nature (e.g. love, couple, heart), sexual in connotation (e.g. attraction, sex, fling), or neutral (e.g. sane, alert, logic). Then, as with the experiments above, the participants were asked to judge the attractiveness of various strangers by viewing their dating, social networking, or professional networking profiles.

Here again, results indicated that the embedded words triggered romantic and sexual feelings in participants. Participants who searched for sexual words in the game later rated the strangers' profiles as more alluring, racy, and provocative than other participants. In contrast, participants who searched for romantic words in the game rated the same strangers as more tender, sentimental, and kind than other participants.

According to the research, it seems that words, messages, and other stimuli in the environment can trigger feelings of love and lust that influence how we see others. Therefore, sometimes that romantic or passionate "spark" felt between two people may be due to something like the song playing on the radio or the movie they just watched, without them being consciously aware of the effect.

Given that, when dating and relating, it might help to pay attention to the sexual and romantic tone of the things that surround you and your partner. Choosing the right activities, for example, may help to spark passion in a relationship.

Previous Articles

© 2015 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Carpentier, F. R. D., Northup, C. T., & Parrott, M. S. (2014). Revisiting media priming effects of sexual depictions: Replication, extension, and consideration of sexual depiction strength, Media Psychology, 17, 34-54.

Carpentier, F. R. D., Parrott, M. S. & Northup, C. T. (2014). When first comes love (or Lust): How romantic and sexual cues bias first impressions in online social networking. The Journal of Social Psychology, 154, 423-440.