Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind

Announces that according to claims made by Joel Weinberger on the effectiveness of subliminal messages, subliminal psychodynamic activation is the answer. Psychotherapy boost; Visual approach; Intelligence of the unconscious; Seriousness of subliminal research.

By PT Staff, published January 1, 1993 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Our unconscious is a lot smarter than we think.

And that's why, if we approach it right, subliminal messages work, claims Joel Weinberger, Ph.D. Not the run-of-the-mill audio self-help tapes, says the Adelphi University professor. Rather, subliminal psychodynamic activation is the really effective technique.

It tosses a sort of emotional curveball at the mind, a lovingly loaded message that bypasses all active defenses to get at the emotional bedrock of the psyche - messages such as "Mommy and I are one." Mothers mean love, nurturing, and other deeply cozy things.

Thirty years of research have proved that such a message works - it boosts psychotherapy, Weinberger insists. On its own, it doesn't do anything; but it improves people's moods to enhance treatment effectiveness.

Weinberger disputes claims by others that the unconscious is too dumb to process subliminal messages. If such sentences haven't worked before it's only because they're the wrong ones. The message has got to get a rise out of someone in order to have subliminal oomph. A simpler, less-meaningful sentence such as "People are walking" just doesn't do it.

Subliminal psychodynamic activation works visually, while standard subliminal tapes are targeted aurally. In studies, as subjects view a card, occasional flickers of light are projected on to it some containing the sweet-mommy message, others nothing. Neither subjects nor experimenters know which. But when the data are analyzed, the subliminal message has an effect almost as strong as a year's worth of school instruction has on reading.

Weinberger thinks it's time psychologists got serious about subliminal research. But the cognitivists, who rule today, minimize the unconscious, while those who pay it its due - psychoanalysts - shun this type of research. "We need to really start investigating these unconscious processes," says Weinberger. "They're more important than people - and the whole field of psychology - realize."