Subliminal Messages Psychology Materials

I occasionally get requests for materials for psychology classrooms based on the backmasking section of my website. I usually don’t send out materials, but I have been known to make exceptions, especially for professors of post secondary institutions.

I should point out that if you are teaching psychology, you may be interested in material intended for classroom demonstrations by writing John Vokey or Don Read at

Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta T1K 3M4 Canada

and requesting University of Lethbridge, Department of Psychology, Technical Report No. 85. A blank cassette tape should be enclosed if classroom demonstrations are desired.

I imagine a blank CD would also work or maybe an empty USB thumb drive, but I would ask them first just to be safe.

Jay-Z and his Unconscious Influence

I came across a video clip of a preacher speaking out against the Hip Hop artist Jay-Z. Proponents of the evils of backmasking, like this preacher, argue that the effects of listening to music with backward messages are manifested in an unconscious manner on the listener’s subsequent behaviour.

He states that:

the heavy metal folks used to do that and they would put the backwards masked messages in your music and they’d say that your subconscious is smart enough—that right brain was smart enough to decode and flip that message so by the time it got to your left brain you understood it and you didn’t even know you understood it. You just acted it out. Because they have the song called Another One Bites the Dust—Queen. Played it backwards it said, I like to smoke marijuana. Yeah, and then they interviewed kids and kids say when they listen to it they just wanna get high, they just want to smoke weed and they had no idea that that message was being reversed in their mind and causing them to want to do that.”

I’d like to point out that contrary to this preacher’s claims, studies have shown that it is, in fact, impossible for the subconscious mind to “decode and flip that message”.

In volume 40, No. 11 of American Psychologist (November 1985), psychologist professors John R. Vokey and J. Don Read address the possibility of unconscious influence within reversed audio.

The proponents of backmasking argue that the effects of greatest concern are not the consciously perceived meanings of backward messages but rather those effects arising from unconscious or subliminal apprehension of the (forward) meaning of the material. Consequently, we also used tasks that required less in the way of conscious apprehension of meaning. We reasoned that if some subconscious mechanism existed for the interpretation of backward messages and their influence upon behaviour, then this mechanism should allow decisions to be made about content without necessarily revealing that content.

Their series of properly controlled scientific experiments included:

  • Identifying whether a backward message when played forward was a statement or a question – 52.1% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • whether they believed two sentences had the same meaning with only changes in the active or passive voice or whether the two sentences had different meanings — 44.81% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • identifying a series of sentences into whether or not they would make sense if heard in the forward direction – 45.2% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • categorizing statements of the sort, “Jesus loves me, this I know” into one of five content categories: nursery rhymes, Christian, satanic, pornographic, and advertising. 19.4% accuracy (20% expected on the basis of random assignment)

Upon the completion of their experiments Vokey and Read concluded, “we could find no evidence that our listeners were influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the content of backward messages.”

I’m not one to deny that it does SOUND like Jay-Z has an anti-religious message in the reverse clip. It’s my belief that if such a message is intentional, its purpose is to gain publicity for his album. By pointing it out, this video has actually done a favour for Jay-Z. The prudent thing to do would be to ignore such obvious attention grabbing tactics. Nevertheless preachers like this one continue to disseminate the false claim that backwards messages within music can influence those listening. I think it’s because that message draws big crowds and allows the preachers to more easily sell copies of their sermons on DVDs.


[Jay-Z Subliminal Message – YouTube]

(Thanks Cody)