Unconscious Influences

Time ticks off some observed ways in which people have been shown to be susceptible to irrational subconscious influences:

Studies have found that upon entering an office, people behave more competitively when they see a sharp leather briefcase on the desk, they talk more softly when there is a picture of a library on the wall, and they keep their desk tidier when there is a vague scent of cleaning agent in the air. But none of them are consciously aware of the influence of their environment.

people sitting in hard chairs are more likely to be more rigid in negotiating the sales price of a new car, they tend to judge others as more generous and caring after they hold a warm cup of coffee rather than a cold drink, and they evaluate job candidates as more serious when they review their résumés on a heavy clipboard rather than a light one.

“These are stimuli that people are conscious of — you can feel the hard chair, the hot coffee — but were unaware that it influenced them. Our unconscious is active in many more ways than this review suggests,” he says.

Ruud Custers, who just coauthored a review of the literature  supporting the idea of what they call an “unconscious will”, claims that we should still be more scared of the advertising we can see than whatever subliminal messages might be attempting to exploit this subconscious susceptibility to irrational influences.  He points out that the observable associations in an ad between people having a Coke and having positive-rewards like friends and trips to the beach can make you unconsciously decide you want a Coke.

In my case, just reading that part of the article made me actually go get a soda.  But it was not a Coke.  Because I am the master of my own destiny.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://www.lxmagic.com Alex Fiorentini

    This is amazing reading it and very eye-opening, but in retrospect it makes sense with my own experience. When I got new carpet, I almost felt like I was in a hotel room that did not belong to me, so I kept the room unusually tidy for a long time.

  • http://1minionsopinion.wordpress.com 1minion

    When my university suite got new carpet, I lay (laid? never know which to use) right on it so I could inhale the fresh glue smell. Dad was a carpet layer by trade and I always loved the sharp scent of that gloopy stuff for some reason.

    I read this article the other day and found it quite interesting. Clearly more goes on with our reactions to the world around us than we’re totally aware of. I never would have noted a different reaction on account of chairs and clipboards — but I will note that when I was in band back in grade school, our classroom had those wood chairs that swooped up with a curved front and a very hard back.

    It was impossible to slouch or sit weird in them without feeling pain, and I seem to recall our instructor actually told us the reason we had those chairs was to keep us sitting straight with our mind on the music.


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