Subliminal Influence

Behavior Modification and Sleep Learning

by Joelle Steele

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You have probably seen or heard something about subliminal recordings — maybe you've even used them yourself. They are recordings of music or soothing sounds with embedded messages — spoken words or phrases recorded below audible volume — that are designed to help you raise your self-esteem, lose weight, be a better salesperson, learn a new language, etc. They are called subliminal stimuli, "subliminals," or sometimes "sleep learning."

The word "subliminal" refers to the fact that the messages are perceived below the threshold of human consciousness. Subliminal stimuli has been around and recognized for more than 100 years, but it wasn't until the mid-1950s that anyone really paid much attention to it. That was about the time that marketers started touting it as a means of influencing or persuading customers to buy their products, mostly through the use of visual subliminals — images embedded within images. Later, in the 1970s, a type of subliminal recording process called "backmasking" (the embedded message was recorded backwards) became a cause for concern over such social issues as murder, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, etc. Parents and other people were concerned about such messages being in the music that kids were listening to. In 1974, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held hearings and then issued a statement contending that subliminal advertising was "contrary to the public interest." Canada also made a similar determination and banned subliminal advertising.

But, in reality, we are always being subliminally programmed. Our subconscious minds hear all the sounds around us that our conscious minds tune out. This applies to conversations you do not consciously hear in public places and to TV and radio commercials and other media influences that you don't consciously listen to. That's why a witness to a crime can often pull up, under hypnosis, details of an event which they did not consciously notice at the time. That's why manufacturers want their products placed in movies and TV programs, even if only for a quick glance by the viewer.


As average human beings, we use less than 5% of our brain's total capacity. And our brains are highly sophisticated and extremely powerful biological computers with limitless learning potential. We can carry on a conversation with someone while a TV is blasting away in the background and we can shift our attention back and forth between the two. Why would it be so impossible to believe that we could be influenced by subliminal messages that we intentionally listen to?

The human brain operates at several known frequencies, and during the various frequencies, the brain is more adept at doing certain things:

0.5 Hz to 4 Hz - Delta waves. In this frequency range, you are asleep, dreaming or not. These are the slowest of all brain waves, and in meditation it is the state in which the individual accesses the unconscious mind and integrates newly learned information.

4 Hz to 8 Hz - Theta waves. In this frequency, you are drowsy and your mind is usually roaming or you may even be daydreaming. For people who have problems sleeping, there are subliminals that are designed to promote sleep and rest by putting you into a theta wave state, in addition to playing messages for learning or achieving goals, etc. In meditation, these are the brain waves that are supposed to help in opening the "third eye," the means by which practitioners gain insight. This is also the brain state in which creativity, learning, and problem solving are most effective. It is also in the theta state that people perform tasks so automatically that they don't even think about them and sometimes don't even remember doing them.

8 Hz to 13 Hz - Alpha waves. This is when your mind is very calm and relaxed. You are alert and clear-headed. It is considered the state in which you are most susceptible to any subliminal messages. In fact, some subliminals are specifically designed to increase your alpha state so that you will be even more receptive. In general, when you are awake and your eyes are closed, the alpha state is naturally produced. That is why it is the most common brain wave state found during the course of meditation at the stage in meditation where the individual is calming the body, lowering the blood pressure and heart rate, and lowering the stress hormones in the body.

13 Hz to 22 Hz - Beta waves. This is your normal, daily state of mind, in which you take care of business, such as work, childcare, school, etc.

22 Hz to 30 Hz - Gamma waves. This is the brain wave activity level found during meditation by those who are very experienced practitioners.

From the above, you can see that you are probably best capable of learning or modifying behavior when your brain starts in the relaxed alpha state, drops into the susceptible theta state, and then "sleeps on it" in the delta state.


Over the years, studies into subliminal stimuli always reach conflicting results according to who performs the study, the way the study is performed, and the people who participate in it. Some studies have been unable to find any evidence at all that subliminal messages affect behavior, believing that if a listener acts on a subliminal message it is only because the listener expected to gain whatever result was intended by the message. However, some studies have proved that subliminals are effective in reducing shoplifting in retail stores by as much as 50%. In 2007, for the 50th anniversary of a 1957 experiment by James Vicary, the experiment was recreated at the International Brand Marketing Conference, when 1,400 people were subjected to 30 subliminal messages over a 90-second period. Afterwards, when asked to choose one of two fictional brands, 81% chose the brand suggested in the subliminal messages.

Why do some studies show that subliminal messages work while others don't? Some experts in subliminal programming believe that it is the recordings themselves, the way the messages are scripted, and the way the recordings are played for and played by the listener. In addition to daily meditation, I used subliminal recordings off and on for almost twenty years. I found that some of them worked far better than others. So I personally think that the recordings and the messages themselves are most important in achieving the desired result. You can read about the recordings and messages themselves in my article: Message Scripting and Listening Techniques for Maximum Results in Subliminal Learning and Behavior Modification.

This article last updated: 04/11/2008.