Is there an effect of subliminal messages in music on choice behavior?

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Date: Mar. 2007
Publisher: Reysen Group
Document Type: Report
Length: 6,873 words
Lexile Measure: 1310L

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The present study examines the effects of subliminal text messages in music on choice behavior. Subliminal messages are assumed to function as auditory primers. The results of two experiments will be presented: In Experiment 1, the authors tried to manipulate choice behavior of adult students (N = 66; age: 19-30 years) using subliminally presented words in two pop music pieces. In two blinded, non-directed listening tasks, subjects had (a) to choose one word out of ten from a list of words (condition wordlist), and (b) to indicate which drink they would like by putting a plastic chip into a box standing in front of four labeled bottles of water (condition choice of drink). Musical examples without subliminal messages were used as a control condition. No significant differences were found between experimental and control conditions. In Experiment 2, children (N = 82; age: 7-11 years) served as subjects. Regardless of the task and age group, no effects of subliminal messages on choice behavior could be observed. The paper concludes with a general discussion about the lack of theories that could explain any observed effects of subliminal manipulation.


The influence of music on consumer behavior has been investigated in the last two decades (e.g., Milliman, 1982, 1986; North, 1996; North, Hargreaves & McKendrick, 2000). Studies have revealed that musical tempo and customers' music preferences are the best predictors for strength of influence. Slow music and appreciation for the respective musical style can, for example, affect the length of stay of supermarket shoppers or restaurant patrons. Howevel, there are only a few studies on the effect of music on choice behavior. Groenland & Schoormans (1994) found that music can affect product evaluation and product choice in a two-fold way: First, music can create a short-lasting association between product and affective stimulus by mood induction; second, affective conditioning can create a longer-lasting connection between a product and an affective stimulus (e.g., music). In a field experiment, North et al. (1997; North, Hargreaves & McKendrick) showed that stereotypical folk music with strong national associations, such as German "Bierkeller" music or French accordion music, can activate related knowledge between the product (e.g., wine) and the respective country The use of French music led to French wines outselling German ones, whereas playing German music led to the opposite effect on sales of French wine. Customers were unaware of these effects. This finding sheds an interesting light on the role of consciousness in advertisement, a topic which is currently under discussion in consumer research. Dijksterhuis et al. (2005) has argued that consumer choice is much more based on unconscious processes than previously assumed and is, for example, affected by environmental features. Following this approach, Chartrand (2005) has proposed building a more comprehensive model of nonconscious processes in consumer behavior. Our study is a contribution to the current discussion of the role of nonconscious perception.

In everyday life, it is a widespread belief that worded messages can be embedded and hidden in music with the intention of manipulating the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A184186316