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Education

How a marketing guru from 1950 instilled a fear of 'mind control' that still exists today

Are companies trying to brainwash us?

targeted ads, social media ads

Ads, ads, ads, ads.

You might not know the name James Vicary, but odds are you know about his experiment, at least indirectly.

In 1957, the market researcher claimed to have exposed thousands of unsuspecting moviegoers in a New Jersey theater to a series of phrases like “Hungry? Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” that flashed across the screen in the fraction of a second as they watched a film. These images allegedly increased the sale of popcorn by 57.5% and Coca-Cola by 18.1%, despite passing far too quickly for viewers to consciously notice them.

Vicary’s findings soon became publicized and induced a widespread, decades-long dystopian fear that secret messages lurked beneath the surfaces of our favorite songs, movies and TV shows, insidiously coercing us to do things without conscious consent. Primarily, to buy things we probably don’t actually want.


In an age where we are now inundated with ads, this kind of manipulation understandably feels quite plausible. Especially when you take into consideration those highly sus product promotions that always seem to appear right after having an adjacent conversation about said product. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have suddenly seen ads for washing machines after telling a friend it was “laundry day.”

However, while there is a deeper meaning hiding beneath Vicary’s experiment, it might not be nearly as doomsday-centric as people may think.

In 1962, Vicary revealed that his findings were falsified as a gimmick, having next-to-no supporting evidence. Subsequent researchers would find that, at best, subliminal messaging was effective with already well-known and at least somewhat popular products, and in very strict laboratory conditions. If anything, the discovery of hidden messages were more closely linked to confirmation bias than an uncovered agenda.

But still, the damage had been done, and panic over mental autonomy ensued.

This fear remains so prevalent today that a study published in 2021 revealed that people shared a “remarkable agreement” that their minds are being actively manipulated by supermarkets, car dealerships, political campaigns, scientists and researchers, therapists, and social media, all outside of their conscious awareness or control.

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That said, the topic is not so black and white. Even if companies aren’t sneaking little “eat me, drink me” captions into our newsfeeds, there are a million clever tactics used to get our attention and make us become emotionally invested in their products.

And sure, maybe Coca-Cola isn’t performing Jedi mind tricks on our psyche, but it would be naive to disregard the power that social media holds in terms of its influence. Take a look at how many more young girls today with unbridled access to Instagram report feelings of low body image and depression, if there’s any doubt. Or at how many more conspiracy theorists there are. The way we think might not be controlled by outside forces, but it is certainly impacted by them, especially if we don’t practice awareness and literacy.

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Even if Vicary’s experiment was a hoax, it has illuminated some kernels of truth that remain important, especially as the need to weed out potential misinformation becomes more of a daily necessity. Whether evil corporations want to steal our souls, or we simply want to not live in fear, discernment is key.

Joy

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The American Kennel Club has crowned a new favorite.

via Pixabay

A sad-looking Labrador Retriever

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According to the American Kennel Club, for the past 31 years, the Labrador Retriever was America’s favorite dog, but it was eclipsed in 2022 by the Frenchie. The rankings are based on nearly 716,500 dogs newly registered in 2022, of which about 1 in 7 were Frenchies. Around 108,000 French Bulldogs were recorded in the U.S. in 2022, surpassing Labrador Retrievers by over 21,000.

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MoMo Productions/Canva

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It's no secret that Americans on average have too much stuff. Yay, capitalism!

Seriously, though, most of us bring new things into our homes pretty regularly, and if we aren't purging regularly, they start to accumulate. We fill drawers, closets, bins, basements and garages with it, and then at some point realize we're swimming in stuff and need to declutter.

The problem is, as much as we may want to pare down and simplify, a lot of us are really bad at getting rid of things. Decluttering involves decision-making, and decision-making can be exhausting. There are also psychological and emotional reasons we hold onto things, and those mental hurdles are often what we need the most help overcoming.

So along with practical decluttering tips like having a garbage bag and a giveaway box with you as you go through different areas of your home, try using these four mantras to help clear the mental clutter that makes physical decluttering difficult.

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