Subliminal images of flag can 'soften' political views

Exposure to split second images of the national flag draws Israelis toward the political center.

israeli flag 88 (photo credit: )
israeli flag 88
(photo credit: )
If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants Israelis to moderate their political views and consider a land-for-peace agreement with the Palestinians, he need only expose them for split seconds to images of the Israeli flag during TV broadcasts. That is the implication of new research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which was recently published in the prestigious US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While Israeli "flag wavers" are generally considered right-wing super patriots who are unwilling to cede an inch of territory, HU researchers have discovered that exposing people to a subliminal image of the national flag has the opposite effect - moderating their political attitudes. The research also confirmed that, in general, subliminal messages influence explicit attitudes and real life political behavior, including voting intentions and actual voting in general elections. The team did not study the effect of subliminal images of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas flag on Palestinian political leanings. Led by cognitive scientist Dr. Ran Hassin, the experiments involved over 300 participants recruited from the university's Mount Scopus campus. In the first experiment, the Israeli participants - divided into two groups chosen at random - were asked about their attitudes toward core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were then asked again to share their opinions on the subject, but this time, prior to answering the researchers' questions, half of the participants were exposed to subliminal images of the Israeli flag projected on a monitor and the rest were not. The results showed that the former group tended to shift to the political center. Another experiment, which was conducted in the weeks leading up the the disengagement from Gaza, replicated these results whereby participants subliminally exposed to the Israeli flag expressed centrist views in relation to the withdrawal and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. The third experiment was held just prior to Israel's last general election. Here too, the subliminal presentation of Israel's flag drew right-wing, as well as left-wing, Israelis toward the political center. Participants who were subliminally exposed to the flag said they intended to vote for more central parties than those who had not been exposed to the subliminal message. The researchers then called the participants after the elections and discovered that people who were exposed to the flag indeed voted for more moderate candidates. The reason for the national symbol's moderating effect remains to be studied and analyzed. "I think these results are interesting for two reasons," said Hassin. "First, they provide sound empirical evidence for the non-conscious ways in which national ideologies subtly affect our thoughts and behaviors. We are now extending this research to examine what other ideologies can do so and in what ways this is expressed. "Secondly," he continued, "these results significantly extend the empirical knowledge regarding the nature and influences of unconscious processes. We are now investigating the mental mechanisms that underlie this phenomenon, and I am confident that this journey will yield new insights to our understanding of the cognitive unconscious - and hence, of consciousness itself."