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Subliminal Messages In Songs Essay About Myself

What are Subliminal Messages?

How do Subliminal Messages work?

A subliminal message is an affirmation or message either auditory or visual presented below the normal limits of human auditory or visual perception.

For example:  The Subliminal signal might be inaudible to the conscious mind because it is below the conscious threshold of hearing, (but audible to the unconscious or deeper mind) or might be an image transmitted briefly and unperceived consciously and yet perceived unconsciously.

While this definition assumes a difference between conscious and unconscious – this might be misleading in the understanding and use; it may be more true to suggest that the subliminal message (sound or image) is perceived by deeper parts of what is a single integrated mind.


About subliminal messages A brief description

  • A signal or message designed to pass below (sub) the normal limits of perception.
  • An inaudible to the conscious mind (but audible to the unconscious or deeper mind)
  • An image transmitted briefly, unperceived consciously, yet perceived unconsciously.


How do Subliminal Messages work?

It is suspected and usually tested in psychological studies that Subliminal messages gain their potential ability to influence from the fact that they may be able to circumvent the conscious awareness and its critical functions.

For example, if you were listening to a Subliminal Session for weight loss and you were able to hear the affirmations “I am Slim and Trim” your conscious mind would say to itself “What a load of crap I am fat and hate my body: The idea is that since you are unable to criticize the affirmation when you can not consciously hear it, it is accepted by the sub conscious mind without comment or rebuttal.

This route to influence or persuasion would be akin to auto-suggestion or hypnosis wherein the subject is encouraged to be (or induced to be) relaxed so that suggestions are directed to deeper parts of the mind; some observers have argued that the unconscious mind is incapable of critical refusal of hypnotic or subliminal suggestions.

Research findings so far do not support the conclusion that subliminal suggestions are peculiarly powerful. Although this might be because most of the studies into subliminal suggestions or influence involve a one-off subliminal stimulus, and then behavior is measured to test any influence. Usually if at all the response of subjects is small and weak

For example,People are asked to look at a computer screen and stimulus subliminal cue (the word or an image of a cloud) is presented. Afterwards subjects are asked to select from a list of words or images and the hope is that the subliminally presented cue will be selected more often.

This of course does not reflect the purpose of a subliminal message suggestion recording which presents the affirmations repeating it hundreds of times during the period the session is played. It is assumed that the small effect shown in studies is increased with the repetition of the Subliminal Message.


The first well known (but totally made up) case of Subliminal Advertising was in 1957. A Fort Lee, (New Jersey) drive-in theater tachistoscopically flashed the words ‘Drink Coke Cola’ and ‘Eat Popcorn’ for 1/3000th of a second every 5 seconds over Kim Novak’s sensuous face and throughout the movie during a 6-week run of the film Picnic. The subliminal message was the brainchild of NY market researcher, James Vicary, who boasted that Coke sales in the lobby increased 58% and that popcorn sales rose 18%. An avalanche of criticism from outraged citizens and congressmen produced more research on the subject and conflicting results have been bandied ever since.

See Derren Brown Demonstrate Subliminal Commands.

NB: While the Vicary study is constantly still being used to claim Subliminal Messages work, in a 1962 Advertising Age interview, Vicary admitted that the original study was “a gimmick” and that the amount of data was “too small to be meaningful”. Later before his death he admitted he had never done the experiment and it was totally made up.

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Do Subliminal Messages Work?

The truthful answer is ….

Manufacturers of Self help products will say YES

Scientists, Researchers and Psychologists will say generallyNO!

However:  As mentioned above, almost all of the research on Subliminal Messages is done with a one time presentation of the subliminal stimulus.  This is a situation that almost certainty (in Science terms that means 99.5%) not going to produce a result.

As a psychologist who relies heavily on scientific evidence on the effectiveness on both Hypnosis and Subliminal Message for creating change in my clients this is a concern.  I have to side with manufacturers of Subliminal products who maintain with repeated exposure the small results found in research are increased to a significant result.

Not all Subliminals Message Products are the same!

Related Article

Do Subliminal Messages Work?

In this article we look at how you can determine what types of Subliminal Message Products will produce a result.  There are many different manufacturers creating all manner of different approaches.  Here you can learn which system of production have science and which ones are just Scams

Sleep Learning?

What is known is that you can not learn anything while you are asleep. The parts of the brain responsible for hearing and processing information shut down during your sleep cycle so NEVER waste your money on products claiming to change your behavior when you are sleeping.


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20 Minute  therapy session to “Live Life with Purpose and Passion”  Play this in the background, and create a change in your attitude without making any conscious effort. Calm and relaxing ocean waves contain the hidden affirmations to reach your unconscious mind


The Science of Subliminal Messages

In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology (Vol. 7, pp. 497-499). New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Subliminal perception occurs whenever stimuli presented below the threshold or limen for awareness are found to influence thoughts, feelings, or actions. The term subliminal perception was originally used to describe situations in which weak stimuli were perceived without awareness. In recent years, the term has been applied more generally to describe any situation in which unnoticed stimuli are perceived.

The concept of subliminal perception is of considerable interest because it suggests that people’s’ thoughts, feelings and actions are influenced by stimuli that are perceived without any awareness of perceiving. This interest was reflected in some of the earliest psychological studies conducted during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In these early studies, people were simply asked whether or not they were aware of perceiving. For example, visual stimuli such as letters, digits, or geometric figures were presented at such a distance from observers that they claimed either not to see anything at all or to see nothing more than blurred dots. Likewise, auditory stimuli such as the names of letters were whispered so faintly that observers claimed that they were unable to hear any sound whatsoever.

To test whether these visual or auditory stimuli may have been perceived despite the statements to the contrary, the observers were asked to make guesses regarding the stimuli. For example, if half the stimuli were letters and half the stimuli were digits, the observers may have been asked to guess whether a letter or a digit had been presented. The consistent result found in these early studies was that the observers’ guesses regarding the stimuli were more correct than would be expected on the basis of chance guessing. In other words, despite the observers’ statements indicating that they were unaware of perceiving the stimuli, their guesses indicated that they did in fact perceive sufficient information to make accurate guesses regarding the stimuli. Over the years, there have been literally hundreds of studies following a similar format. Taken together, these studies show that considerable information capable of informing decisions and guiding actions is perceived even when observers do not experience any awareness of perceiving.

Another way in which subliminal perception has been demonstrated in controlled laboratory studies is by showing that stimuli can be perceived even when they are presented under conditions that make it difficult if not impossible to distinguish one stimulus from another stimulus. The classic studies were conducted in the 1970s by the British psychologist Anthony Marcel. These experiments were based on previous findings indicating that a decision regarding a stimulus is facilitated or primed when the stimulus follows a related stimulus.

For example, if an observer is asked to classify a letter string as either a word (e.g., doctor, bread) or a nonword (e.g., tocdor, dreab), a letter string such as the word doctor will be classified as a word faster when it follows a semantically related word (e.g., nurse) than when it follows a semantically non-related word (e.g., butter).

Marcel found that words facilitated or primed subsequent word/nonword decisions to letter strings even when the words were presented under conditions that made it difficult if not impossible for the observers to distinguish when the words were present from when the words were absent. Since the time of Marcel’s original experiments, there have been many other studies that have used similar methods.

Not only have these studies confirmed Marcel’s original findings, but they have shown that other stimuli such as pictures, faces, and spoken words can also facilitate subsequent decisions when they are presented under conditions that make it difficult to discriminate one stimulus from another stimulus. Although questions have been raised regarding whether the observers in these studies were completely unable to discriminate one stimulus from another stimulus, the one firm conclusion that can be made on the basis of these studies is that considerable information is perceived even when observers experience little or no awareness of perceiving as indicated by their difficulty in discriminating one stimulus from another stimulus.

Examples of subliminal perception are found in studies of patients with neurological damage. A striking characteristic of a number of neurological syndromes is that patients claim not to see particular stimuli but nevertheless respond on the basis of information conveyed by these stimuli. One example is a syndrome called blindsight. Patients with blindsight have damage to the primary visual cortex. As a result of this damage, they are often unaware of perceiving stimuli within a restricted area of their visual field. For example, if the visual field is thought of as consisting of four quadrants, a blindsight patient may have normal vision for stimuli presented in three of the quadrants but be completely unaware of stimuli presented in the fourth quadrant. However, even though these patients may claim not to see stimuli located within the “blind” quadrant, they are still able to guess the size, shape or orientation of the stimuli that they claim not to see.

Another neurological syndrome in which subliminal perception occurs is prosopagnosia or face agnosia. Patients with prosopagnosia are unable to recognize familiar faces. Although they may be aware that they are looking at a person’s face, they are unable to say who the person may be. Thus, prosapagnosics have no awareness of perceiving any information regarding whose face they may be viewing. However, despite this absence of awareness, some patients with prosapagnosia are able to choose which of two names goes with each familiar face that they claim not to be able to recognize.

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Perception without an awareness of perceiving can also occur in surgical patients undergoing general anesthesia. One goal of general anesthesia is to ensure that surgical patients are completely unaware of all events that occur during anesthesia. This goal is satisfied in the vast majority of cases because when patients are asked following surgery to report anything they remember that happened during surgery, just about every patient claims not to remember anything. However, when memory is assessed by more indirect methods, there appears to be some memory for events during anesthesia. For example, during surgery, patients may wear earphones and a tape recording of a number of repetitions of a series of words may be played to the patients.

If following surgery, these patients are presented word stems such as gui _ _ or pro _ _ and asked to complete these stems to produce a common English word, there are numerous possible completions (e.g., guilt, guild, guile; prove, prowl, probe). However, if the words guide and proud had been presented during anesthesia, then the patients may be more likely to complete the stems gui _ _ and pro _ _ with letters that reproduce guide and proud than with letters that produce other possible words. Given that patients undergoing general anesthesia are unaware of events in the external environment, memory for specific stimuli presented during anesthesia shows that information is at times perceived without any awareness of perceiving during general anesthesia.

Over the years, some extraordinary claims have been made concerning the power of subliminal perception. Perhaps the most widely known claim was made in 1957 by James Vicary, a market researcher. He claimed that over a six-week period, 45,699 patrons at a movie theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey were shown two advertising messages, Eat Popcorn and Drink Coca-Cola, while they watched the film Picnic. According to Vicary, a message was flashed for 3/1000 of a second once every five seconds. The duration of the messages was so short that they were never consciously perceived. Despite the fact that the customers were not aware of perceiving the messages, Vicary claimed that over the six-week period the sales of popcorn rose 57.7% and the sales of Coca-Cola rose 18.1%. Vicary’s claims are often accepted as established facts. However, Vicary never released a detailed description of his study and there has never been any independent evidence to support his claims. Also, in an interview with Advertising Age in 1962, Vicary stated that the original study was a fabrication. The weight of the evidence suggests that it was indeed a fabrication.

Other claims regarding the extraordinary efficacy of subliminal perception also lack substance. In the 1970s, Wilson Bryan Key wrote such books as Subliminal Love & Seduction and Media Sexploitation in which he claimed subliminal sexual symbols or objects are often used to entice consumers to buy and use various products and services. One of Key’s most famous claims is that the word sex was often embedded in products and advertisements. For example, he claimed that the word sex was printed on Ritz crackers and was embedded in the ice cubes of the drink shown in a well-known ad for Gilbey’s Gin. According to Key, despite the fact the embedded words are not consciously perceived, they are unconsciously perceived and can elicit sexual arousal which in turn makes the products more attractive to consumers. Although Key’s claims are widely known, there is no independent evidence indicating that embedded subliminal words, symbols, or objects are used to sell products. Furthermore, even if such embedded subliminal stimuli were used, there is no evidence to suggest this would be an effective method for influencing the choices that consumers make.

Belief in the power of subliminal perception to induce changes in the way people feel and act is so widespread that a number of companies have been able to exploit this belief by marketing subliminal self-help audio and video tapes. The companies that market these tapes claim that regular use of the tapes can cure a variety of problems and aid in the development of many skills. Each company markets a number of different tapes. Presumably, what distinguishes the different tapes marketed by each company are the embedded subliminal messages that can be neither consciously seen or heard. Some of the more popular tapes are claimed to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, or reduce stress; other tapes are claimed to help people increase their reading speed, improve their memory, or develop their skills at tennis (or golf or baseball, etc.). Given the extraordinary nature of these claims, there have been a number of controlled studies designed specifically to test of the efficacy of the tapes. All of these studies have failed to find any evidence consistent with the claims of the companies that market these tapes. There is simply no evidence that regular listening to subliminal audio self-help tapes or regular viewing of subliminal video self-help tapes is an effective method for overcoming problems or improving skills. In fact, there is even evidence to suggest that many subliminal self-help tapes do not even contain subliminal messages that could possibly be perceived under any circumstances by a human observer.

A common theme that links all extraordinary claims regarding subliminal perception is that perception in the absence of an awareness of perceiving is somehow more powerful or influential than perception that is accompanied by an awareness of perceiving. This idea is not supported by the results of controlled laboratory investigations of subliminal perception. Rather, the findings from controlled studies indicate that subliminal perception, when it occurs, reflects a person’s usual interpretations of stimuli. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that people initiate actions on the basis of subliminal perception. The weight of the evidence indicates that people must be aware of perceiving stimuli before they initiate actions or change their habitual reactions to these stimuli. Thus, although subliminal perception may allow us to make accurate guesses regarding the characteristics of stimuli, subliminal perception cannot lead a person to drink Coca-Cola or to eat Ritz Crackers, and it cannot be used effectively to improve a person’s tennis skills or to cure a person’s bad habits.


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Dixon, N. F. (1971). Subliminal perception: The nature of a controversy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Comprehensive review of all research findings prior to 1970.

Greenwald, A. W. (1992). New look 3: Unconscious cognition reclaimed. American Psychologist, 47, 766-779.
A review and discussion of recent research findings.

McConnell, J. V., Cutler, R. L., & McNeil, E. B. (1958). Subliminal stimulation: An overview. American Psychologist, 13, 229-242.
This paper was published shortly after the original claims regarding the effectiveness of embedded messages such as “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” became widely known. It provides an in-depth evaluation of these claims.

Merikle, P. M., & Daneman, M. (1996). Memory for unconsciously perceived events: Evidence from anesthetized patients. Consciousness and Cognition, 5, 525-541.
Presents and discusses the aggregate results of all studies investigating memory for events during general anesthesia.

Merikle, P. M., & Daneman, M. (1998). Psychological investigations of unconscious perception. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5, 5-18.
Overview of scientific approaches to the study of subliminal perception. Includes some speculations regarding the consequences of subliminal perception.

Pratkanis, A. R. (1992). The cargo-cult science of subliminal persuasion. Skeptical Inquirer, 16, 260-272.
Evaluates many of the extraordinary claims regarding subliminal perception.

Vokey, J. R., & Read, J. D. (1985). Subliminal messages: Between the devil and the media. American Psychologist, 40, 1231-1239.
A review and evaluation of the claim that some rock music contains subliminal backward messages.

Weiskrantz, L. (1986). Blindsight:A case study and implications. New York: Oxford University Press.
This is the classic case study of a patient with blindsight.

Young, A. W. (1994). Covert recognition. In M. J. Farah & G. Ratcliff (Eds.), The neuropsychology of high-level vision (pp. 331-358). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


  Related Posts


Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer's use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners' self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.

Music, hypnosis, Charcot, brainwashing, mesmerism

Because of the direct physical character of hearing and the fact that one cannot close one's ears, music has long provoked anxieties about personal autonomy. The feeling of ‘losing one's self’ that is central to musical ecstasy (ἔκστασις—to stand outside oneself) can be an exhilarating escape from the confines of the ego, but can also be very disturbing, raising complex questions about the porous boundaries of the self and the ability of others to manipulate it. Many physicians, psychologists and critics have wondered whether its effects can go beyond the powerful group dynamics and behavioural changes related to music in the context of religious ritual and warfare and actually ‘hypnotise’ or ‘brainwash’ an audience.1 Although most observers now follow French anthropologist Gilbert Rouget's view that the relationship between music and hypnosis and trance is psycho-social rather than physiologically deterministic, over the past 200 years the idea of musical hypnosis has been the basis of a variety of discourses about music leading to involuntary hypnosis, robbing listeners of autonomy and making them sexually vulnerable.2

The modern (mostly) non-supernatural discussion of music as a hypnotic force goes back to the late eighteenth century, when the context shifted, in Henri Ellenberger's words, from possession and exorcism to dynamic psychiatry.3 By 1800 the combination of the development of Mesmer's theory of ‘animal magnetism’, new conceptions of the self, and the Romantic aesthetics of music created a discourse that portrayed musical mesmeric trances as a threat to the self and to sexual self-control. These associations with sensuality and a loss of self were to become constant themes in the debate on hypnotic music even as hypnotism emerged as a more mainstream part of science in the mid-nineteenth century. Crucially, hypnotism and hypnotic music came to play an important part in the emergence of a ‘physiological psychology’ that regarded the hypnotic state as an ‘automatic’ phenomenon akin to a physical reflex.4 From the gongs and tuning forks used by Jean-Martin Charcot to induce hypnotic trances to Ivan Pavlov's use of bells to create conditioned reflexes, the idea of automatic responses to sound, physiologically determined and bypassing the conscious mind, have dominated the debate on musical hypnosis.5 In this context, music was seen as a potential threat to a self that was susceptible to external stimuli and therefore as a danger to the self-control that was the basis of sanity for the individual and of order for society.

As this article will show, this scientific debate about the power of music to overwhelm self-control and leave the listener open to the sinister designs of the hypnotizing musician has proved highly influential in culture, literature and politics in a number of very different contexts. The first section of this paper will examine the role of music in Mesmerism and the experimental hypnotism of the nineteenth century, and its echoes in literature and music criticism. For many observers, the idea of musical hypnosis became the basis of a critique of music's dangers that had considerable resonance with wider concerns about the fragility of social and sexual discipline in a rapidly urbanising society.6 The next section will consider twentieth-century debates on the concept of musical brainwashing, especially in the United States. This discourse drew on the Pavlovian theory of conditioned reflexes to create a scientific and popular discourse about the supposed threat to political and sexual self-control in the Cold War atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s. After that I will examine the way that this Cold War debate in turn became the basis for the debate on music and ‘backmasking’ in the so-called Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s, which expressed concerns about hypnotic media and social control in the context not of Communism but of the contemporary American ‘Culture Wars’. Finally, I will consider more sceptical views of musical trance that might provide a better basis for an understanding of modern musical hypnosis than the reductive neurological approach adopted by many of those who have warned of music's mesmeric dangers.

Hypnotic Music, Automatic Response and the Self

Music played an important role in animal magnetism, the techniques created from the 1770s by the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer that combined fixing patients with a literally mesmeric gaze and a theory of a universal fluid that could be manipulated to bring about health.7 What would later come to be called hypnotism seems to have been an significant part of Mesmer's treatments, but it was his French pupil de Puysegur who coined the terms ‘magnetic sleep’ or ‘artificial somnambulism’ for the hypnotic state often achieved by animal magnetism. Mesmer regarded animal magnetism as a matter of ‘sympathetic vibration’ just as much as music, and argued that it could be communicated, propagated and reinforced by sounds.8 Some contemporaries believed that the pianos, violins and harps, and especially the glass armonica that featured prominently in his treatments, were in fact responsible for many of Mesmer's triumphs.9 The following decades provided many accounts of musical hallucinations experienced by mesmerised patients, mesmeric cures achieved with the aid of music and tales of tone-deaf patients developing miraculous musical talents while in a magnetic sleep.101

Fig. 1

A group of mesmerised French patients (1778/1784) have their treatment enhanced by the playing of a harpsichord and the singing of a monk.

Fig. 1

A group of mesmerised French patients (1778/1784) have their treatment enhanced by the playing of a harpsichord and the singing of a monk.

Despite these apparent successes, the suspicions of its power over the self and sexual inhibitions that would dominate discussions of hypnotic music were already apparent. The German writer and composer E. T. A Hoffmann, despite his fascination with uncanny states, expressed concern about animal magnetism.11 His contemporary Hegel likewise articulated fears of involuntary trance states caused by mesmerism, writing that, ‘one individual acts on another whose will is weaker and less independent. Therefore very powerful natures exercise the greatest power over weak ones, a power often so irresistible that the latter can be put into a magnetic trance by the former whether they wish it or not’.12 The supposed ability of mesmeric music to overcome the will and make female listeners vulnerable to the immoral advances of the ‘magnetiseur’ was also a widespread concern.13 Already in 1784 the French Royal Commission set up to investigate Mesmer's claims implicitly compared the mesmeric ‘crisis’ to an orgasm.14 In the same decade, Mozart and da Ponte's opera Cosi fan tutte included a depiction of a mesmerist as a fraud and his technique as a means of seduction, and was followed by many other satires.15

These associations with sexual impropriety and illegitimate meddling with the self continued into the mid-nineteenth century, when, starting with James Braid in the 1840s, many physicians attempted to separate hypnotism from its semi-occult mesmerist past and to establish it as serious science.16 Despite this move away from the more fanciful aspects of Mesmer's legacy, hypnotism continued to be linked with music. Musicians were believed to be especially open and vulnerable to the state, and many cases of those in a ‘nervous sleep’ displaying unexpected musical gifts were recorded.17 More importantly, startling results were achieved using sound and music to hypnotise patients, which were generally explained in terms of the ‘automatic’ responses that could be provoked, raising important questions about the power of music over listeners. These automatic responses to sound seemed to undermine the whole idea of personal autonomy and opened up the possibility of mental ‘contagion’ through music at a time when it was widely felt that emerging mass society threatened both individuality and order.

Anxiety about ‘automatic’ responses to music was closely related to broader fears about the effect of music on the nerves. The nervous system, with its automatic reflexes and its ineffable connection between physical stimulation and state of mind, was at the centre of the debate on music's dangers. During the eighteenth century, music's impact on the nerves was largely seen in the context of the refined nerves of sensibility, but by the early nineteenth century music had been incorporated into the medical critique of modern over-stimulation that had been developed by the likes of George Cheyne, S. A. D. Tissot and John Brown.18 While many nineteenth-century medical critics of music lamented its supposed ability to directly cause pathologies of the nerves, others fretted about the inflaming effect on the imagination, especially in relation to sexuality, of musical nervous stimulation. Worries about musical hypnosis were in a sense an extension of these fears, going beyond over-stimulated nerves and imagination to a complete loss of autonomy.

The link between the hypnotic power of music and the nerves was underlined in the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot's experiments with hypnosis at the Salpêtrière in Paris later in the nineteenth century. He used gongs and tuning forks on patients to provoke cataleptic fits, one of his stages of hysterical hypnosis.19 Other leading figures at the Salpêtrière, such as Paul Regnard and Paul Richer, Alfred Binet and Charles Féré, also used tuning fork, gongs and children's lullabies and recorded similar results.20 They all assumed that the seizures were the consequence of an essentially automatic physiological nervous reaction from the patient to the stimuli, leaving the psyche out altogether. The only question Charcot considered open was whether the reaction related to the auditory nerve or the nervous system more generally. He described a typical experiment of this kind in the following words:

I have these two hysterics take a seat on the sound box of a large tuning fork. As soon as I set the fork vibrating, you can see that they fall into catalepsy. When we stop the vibrations, they fall into somnambulism. If we begin new vibrations with the tuning fork, the catalepsy reappears. Is this strange fact … due to the excitation of auditory sensitivity, or that of sensitivity in general? We don't know.21


Fig. 2

A hysterical female patient at the Salpêtrière sticking out her tongue in a supposedly automatic response to the tuning fork used by the physician. Source: Paul Richer, Nouvelle iconographie de la Salpêtrière (Paris, 1889), plate 34.

Fig. 2

A hysterical female patient at the Salpêtrière sticking out her tongue in a supposedly automatic response to the tuning fork used by the physician. Source: Paul Richer, Nouvelle iconographie de la Salpêtrière (Paris, 1889), plate 34.

The actual nature of these events has been much disputed. Charcot himself categorised them as expressions of ‘hystero-epilepsy’, combining the link to hysteria that he saw as key in the aetiology of the condition with the analogies to epileptic fits obvious in the cataleptic trances. The twentieth-century British physician Macdonald Critchley considered cases that have some similarities to these as examples of ‘musicogenic epilepsy’.22 Others, such as Albert Moll, have argued that psychological factors such as suggestion were more important than any direct physiological impact of ‘the loud noise of a gong’ at the Salpêtrière.23 Hypnosis there certainly had a powerful unacknowledged theatrical character. The same hysterical women were used repeatedly in Charcot's popular demonstrations, and many have argued that some form of more of less conscious action by the women concerned was involved, which the Belgian psychologist Joseph Delboeuf described as ‘something approaching’ simulation.24