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Fisher, C. Paul, I.H. (1959). The Effect of Subliminal Visual Stimulation on Images and Dreams: A Validation Study. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 7:35-83.

(1959). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 7:35-83

The Effect of Subliminal Visual Stimulation on Images and Dreams: A Validation Study

Charles Fisher, M.D. and I. H. Paul, Ph.D.


1. The present investigation represented an attempt to validate the Poetzl dream experiment and the Allers and Teler imagery experiment, i.e., to demonstrate the effect of subliminal visual stimulation on subsequent dreams and images. The methodological deficiences of previous research were corrected by instituting experimental controls and checks at as many points in the procedure as possible: from the point where the stimulus is subliminally exposed to the subject to the point where the drawings depicting his imagery are evaluated.

2. The following major innovations were made in the experimental design: (1) a control session in which the subject provided samples of his spontaneous imagery following no subliminal exposure; (2) more than one recovery condition, namely, the upright-light and the supine-dark; (3) a checklist, based upon an objective description of the stimulus (double-profile) for scoring and evaluating the data; (4) the scoring of the data by "blind" judges who did not know the nature of the experiment; (5) the use of a second subliminal stimulus (clock) that differed substantially from the first in both its figural and conceptual properties; (6) a statistical evaluation of the results.

3. The major hypotheses of this experiment were confirmed. The average checklist scores for the post-exposure images following the tachistoscopic exposure of the completely subliminal stimulus (double-profile) were considerably higher than the scores for the control images, indicating that elements and properties of the stimulus appeared in subsequent imagery with a frequency far

greater than chance alone would allow. The average checklist scores of the post-exposure images following subliminal stimulation by the second stimulus (clock) showed predictable decreases as compared to the control images and the images following the first stimulus (double-profile), proving that, not only was it possible to produce the effect, but it could be manipulated in predictable ways.

4. Evidence was obtained strongly suggesting that the supine-dark recovery condition had an enhancing effect on the emergence of subliminal stimuli into imagery. These results were discussed in relation to the effect on the imagery process of removal of postural supports, stimulus deprivation, and interference with the autonomy of the ego.

5. Qualitative analyses of the results were made revealing a variety of transformations and distortions of the subliminal stimuli. Evidence was obtained that during subliminal registration the figure-ground effect became fluid or was eliminated. The results were discussed in terms of the possibility that the Gestalt laws of good continuation, closure, figure-ground, etc., may hold for the particular state of consciousness mobilized in the usual laboratory perceptual task but may not hold for subliminally registered forms.

6. Although this study was primarily concerned with demonstrating the effects of subliminal stimulation on imagery, some data were presented which also bore on the Poetzl phenomenon, e.g., showing that subliminally registered stimuli emerge in the manifest content of subsequent dreams.

7. The conclusion is drawn that subliminal visual registration is a genuine phenomenon and that subliminal visual stimulation may influence subsequent dreams and images.

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