Myth of the Mousetrap

Myth of the Mousetrap bookA couple of days ago I got a nice email from an author in the UK by the name of Anne Miller.

She wrote to let me know she had mentioned my website in her new book and to tell me a little something about it.

It sounds interesting, and I’m flattered to have been included.

Here’s what she wrote:

I’m referencing your backmasking site in my book The Myth of the Mousetrap: how to get your ideas adopted (and change the world), as a excellent example of the way that we force fit things to fit with what we expect. This is one of the reasons why, when you tell people your brilliant idea, they ignore it, saying things like “we tried that years ago and it didn’t work” or “thats just like my idea”.

See: for more info.

The book was published a couple of weeks ago by Cyan/Marshall Cavendish and is available in UK, N America and Australasia.

Thanks Anne!


Tonight on BBC Fivelive

They are doing an item tonight on hidden messages in music on the BBC show Fivelive. I chatted with one of the hosts/producers this morning about backmasking. Check it out if you have access to the BBC.

backmasking psychology

The Truth About Subliminal Influence

Hungry? Eat Popcorn

The interesting thing about the claim of a subliminal influence contained within popular music when played backwards is that the messages are very difficult (if not impossible) to discern unless you’ve been primed to hear them on a conscious level.

I’ve been receiving emails wanting to know how this apparent lack of influence ties in with research that demonstrates subliminal messages can coerce unwary buyers into making purchases they would not otherwise have considered?

A short story is in order, (stop me if you’ve heard this one) Fort Lee, N.J., 1957. Unsuspecting film goers are enjoying “Picnic”, with William Holden and Kim Novak. In the projection room, an important marketing experiment is being staged. Researcher James Vicary has installed a tachistoscope, a machine that can inject subliminal images of tiny fractions of a second—far below that of a person’s conscious threshold. Every five seconds and for a duration of just 1/3000th of a second, Vicary alternated two messages. One read, “Drink Coca-cola” and the other, “Hungry? Eat Popcorn”.

Vicary’s results were spectacular! Coca-cola sales jumped 18.1%; popcorn sales 57.8%. Vicary dubbed this “subliminal advertising”, the practise of manipulating consumers to make purchases they might not normally make.

And if you believe that, I’ve got a pet rock I’d like to sell you.

The great popcorn experiment was a fraud.

Advertisers and regulators doubted Vicary’s story from the beginning, so another researcher, Dr. Henry Link, duplicated Vicary’s experiment and found no evidence that people reacted to the messages. In a 1962 interview, Mr. Vicary admitted the data was all fabricated to gain attention for his business. Some critics have since expressed doubt that he ever conducted the experiments at all.

However, the legend lives on. To this day a great many people still believe Vicary’s claims and will apparently never be convinced otherwise.

As numerous studies over the last few decades have demonstrated, subliminal advertising doesn’t work; in fact, it never worked, and the whole premise was based on a lie from the very beginning.

It is possible to prime the unconscious.

According to a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale were able to alter people’s judgments by simply priming them with either hot or cold coffee.

The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee and asked for a hand with the cup.

That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.

As improbable as it may seem, findings like this one have continued to pour forth in psychological research in recent years.

New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.

The article goes on to remind readers that, “studies of products promising subliminal improvement, for things like memory and self-esteem, found no effect”.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink—here’s a very short audio snippet from chapter 2 (650k mp3).


A Night at the Opera

This YouTube clip is of a scene from “A Night at the Opera” with The Marx Brothers. To simulate a foreign language, lines of dialogue that were meant to sound foreign were reversed when the film was originally made. That is, the foreign language is just English played backwards.

It’s not too spectacular, in fact it’s just an honest translation of what the other characters asked him to say but here is the audio I reversed: A Night at the Opera Reversed.



wikiback logo

I just finished installing a new wiki for anyone interested in the phenomena of backmasking. It’s called Wikiback. It’s the first wiki I’ve ever setup, but I’m hoping it will be a benefit to those looking for more information.

It hasn’t got a lot on it yet, but anyone interested in adding backmasking information is welcome to edit it.

Update: I decided to delete wikiback from my website because the code was too hard to maintain and was being constantly edited by spam bots.


Lost Backwards Message

The creators of the TV show Lost are often filling the shows with clues for the audience to figure out what the show is all about. I’ve never been able to follow the show—I guess that’s what happens if you try to jump in halfway through a season—but fans of the show may find this interesting.

In the scene where Karl is strapped to a chair in Room 23, there is a backwards message embedded in the audio. It’s pretty clear (at least in the reversed clip) and the person/people that made the clip wrote what it is your going to hear on the top of the clip, so no sense in saving it until after you’ve watched the video; the message, spoken by a woman, repeats the phrase, “Only fools are enslaved by time and space”.

Here is the scene forward and reverse:

And here is the same scene reversed with subtitle prompts:

I can’t vouch for the fact that the audio hasn’t been adjusted in any extra way (besides reversal).

Update: I checked the audio myself and it appears to be a legitimate reversal, though the audio was more clear in this version than in the version I flipped myself, but it was still there. (link to lost-s03e07-reversed-clip.mp3)


Backmasking on The Paul & Jan Crouch Show

Youtube has a copy of the backmasking episode of The Paul & Jan Crouch Show. Paul Jr. plays clips from Rock and Roll music both forward and backward. Much like the examples on my backmasking page, the examples are hard to decipher until the listener is primed as to what he or she should be hearing.

Part 1
Update: The videos have been pulled — see below for a new YouTube video.

The next part focuses on the album artwork and the symbols and general symbolism that musicians apparently use to promote a satanic agenda. It also talks about famous satanist Aleister Crowley.

Part 2
Update: The videos have been pulled

Part 3 focuses on backmasking and gives examples of both intentional and non-intentional messages within Rock music.

Part 3
Update: The videos have been pulled

Part four has more examples of backmasking and a little misdirection about what some psychologists believe about the human subconscious.

There’s actually two dangers, as far as backward masking. One is, yeah, I know a lot of kids play their albums backwards—more for a joke, but they get these messages. What’s even scarier and it’s still a little controversial, but I do have some documentation from psychologists that believe the subconscious mind is probably the most incredible computer ever—you know, God did a great job when he invented our self sub conscious. That’s why we don’t have to breath at night when we are sleeping, our subconscious takes over, that’s when it’s the most active and anything that’s stored in our subconscious forward can be recalled backwards just as easily and this again, backwards masking is a form or subliminal suggestion.

Part 4 continues with more examples and then ends with Stairway to Heaven. Paul Jr. takes a more extensive look at the song than just the little section I have posted on my page.

Part 4
Update: The videos have been pulled

Part 5 continues with Stairway to Heaven. The lyrics that Paul Jr. describes are slightly different than the ones I hear and as a result, the ones he tells them to listen for, are the ones they hear.

Part 5
Update: The videos have been pulled

I’m not trying to setup a straw man argument, but I found it interesting to learn that years later Paul Crouch Sr. would find himself in his own scandal involving a settlement to a former employee who accused Paul of sexually harassing him. (Wikipedia entry on Paul Crouch).
Update: Here’s another copy of one part of the video:

backmasking education psychology

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.

backmasking psychology religion

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)


Break on Through

I added a new clip from Break on Through, by The Doors, to my backmasking page for your subliminal viewing pleasure.

As far as I’m aware, I’m the first to have “discovered” this particular clip—though looking in this song was a suggestion by someone who emailed me. Like most of the songs on my backmasking page, I don’t think this is at all intentional, but of course that doesn’t mean we can’t get a good laugh out of it.

I’ve got another one I’m thinking of adding in the next little while, so in the meantime go tell your friends—at long last there is an update.