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Study Says Subliminal Self-Help Tapes of No Scientifically Proven Value

September 24, 1991 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans spend $50 million a year on self-help tapes that supposedly send messages to the subconscious mind, but a committee of experts say there is no scientific evidence such tapes are of any value.

A committee for the National Research Council, an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences, said there is no real proof that so-called subliminal messages embedded in self-help tapes actually help a person reach a specific goal.

″We conclude that there is neither theoretical foundation nor experimental evidence to support claims that subliminal self-help audio tapes enhance human performance,″ the committee said in an NRC report released today.

Tapes recordings of soothing sounds, such as waves or gentle breezes, are being sold on the basis that embedded behind these sounds, at a level that cannot be consciously detected, are messages that will lead to self improvement.

The committee said the theory is that these messages, repeated thousands of times, are picked up by the subconscious and then converted into changes in behavior.

Tapes are offered, the committee said, to help people do such things as lose weight, stop smoking, quit drinking, think creatively, make friends, reduce pain, improve vision, cure acne, conquer fears, project astrally, mentally travel through space and become better at bowling.

In 1987, the report said, Americans spent $50 million on such tapes. They are being produced by about 2,000 companies or individuals.

″The subliminal industry is big and, by most accounts, getting bigger,″ the report said. ″The premise underlying subliminal suggestion - that a person can effortlessly accomplish in a matter of months or even weeks what others struggle but fail to do in a lifetime - is irresistible.″

Yet, the committee found that some research shows that many of the tapes actually contain no messages that could influence behavior. Other studies showed that the tapes had ″no appreciable effect, positive or negative, on any measure of either self-esteem or memory.″

Subliminal messages was one of a series of training techniques evaluated by the council in a study ″In the Mind’s Eye.″ The study was undertaken at the request of the Army, which asked the council to evaluate the ″new age″ techniques of enhancing human performance.

Among other findings:

-Meditation, such as techniques taught by some Yogi instructors, is not better than other forms of relaxation in reducing stress or increasing performance.

-Mental practice, the technique of using the imagination to mentally rehearse a physical activity, such as tennis, can help an athlete’s performance if it is used as a supplement to physical practice. But to maximize performance in the shortest amount of time, nothing beats physical practice.

-Measures to reduce stress, such as relaxation, giving information on what to expect and aiding a person’s sense of control, can also help reduce the sensation of pain.

-A student’s performance in training may not accurately reflect the actual level of learning and that tests during training should be as close as possible to what the student will encounter in the real world.

-Detecting liars is possible by an accurate interpretation of non-verbal cues, but these cues may vary from culture to culture. Thus, an interrogator may be better at detecting deception if he or she shares the same culture with the subject being questioned.