Part 1 of Banner Heading.Part 2 of Banner Heading.Part 3 of Banner Heading.

The Psychology Papers : Part I

animated scrollSeeing isn't Believing


ambiguous figure: letter B or number 3If you were asked what the shape on the left was the most likely answer was a number three.

Titbits logo using ambiguous figureBut place exactly the same figure in a different context - among letters - then it can be read as a B, even though it does not have the upright bar expected with the letter B. This is what occurs if its is part of Titbits.

Sometime in 1968 the Titbits banner heading was changed to that on the right, presumably because someone liked their titbits to be complete. This example indicates that the world is not just simply what it appears to be. What is 'seen' is constructed and 1986 titbits loga with conventional lettersrepresents an accommodation between what is known and the information received through the visual sense. A few examples from classic psychology experiments are shown below to illustrate that we take into account the context when we 'see' information and that it is the context that 'determines' what is 'seen'.

In the first example there is a character rather like the B in the original Titbits title. But when one reads across, rather than down, instead of being 'seen' as a letter it is read as Ambiguous B / 13the number 13 because of the context it is in. Similarly the Ambiguous letter H / Aexample with what is normally read as H in the word THE contains a character that could just as easily be read as an A if the surrounding letters were C and T as in the word CAT.Ambiguous letter H / A

The following sections take this type of explanation of visual perception a stage further to demonstrate how and why semi-subliminal elements of ads are often overlooked and yet are subject to the same rules of perception as other images. They may thus possibly influence those who view them.

Link to top of page

hline.jpg (2424 bytes)


scrollVisual Perception


Geographic magazine illustration of pathways to perceptionThe visual system is extremely complex and it is impossible to do it justice on this site. Interested readers are recommended to view the article in the edition of the Geographic magazine containing the original of this small scale reproduction. Alternatively any animated 'pulsating' head.psychology textbook or textbook on perception will provide stimulating reading. A number of these are listed on the Psychology Bibliography. The sections below can only give a brief indication of how we can be both fooled by visual information and how even ambiguous information can be interpreted meaningfully. There is also an indication of how such ambiguity, when presented in adverts, need not prevent automatic processes from extracting some information, even if this never reaches conscious awareness.

Link to top of page

hline.jpg (2424 bytes)


scrollLanguage and Images


The two lists of images and titles are the basis for a simple experiment that can demonstrate that how we name images affects how we remember them and also how we might draw what we remember. Note that each list has identical images. What differs is simply the label that is attached to each image.

the influence of words on judgement. (1)The influence of words on judgement  (2).When people are shown either one or other list and then asked to recall what they have seen it is almost invariably the case that what they recall is influenced by the label associated with it. The first image in each case is a rough diamond shape within a square but note that the lines of the 'diamond' are slightly curved. When viewers recall this list the lines are straightened in any drawing that they produce. In contrast when viewers are given the list with the label curtains in window they draw even more enhanced curves to make their drawing much more like 'curtains in a window'. Similar results apply to most of the items on the list. When individuals are tested the results are generally not as powerful as when two groups of people are compared. However, there usually are sufficient differences even with an individual trying to recall images to make this a powerful reminder that we do not simply see things.

The conclusion that is drawn on the basis of such studies is that we do not simply remember shapes, we associate them with language. And, if we label objects, then it is the label or name that may influence our judgements of what we 'see'. Hence, when viewing ambiguous stimuli or embedded words in ads it is our previous knowledge that will, in part, determine what we perceive. Advertising agencies are, of course, familiar with this and other aspects of psychology and they would be remiss if they did not make use of their knowledge to facilitate sales. However, when they cross the boundary into using embedded and other manipulative techniques then this is surely unacceptable.

Link to top of page






Link to previous pageLink to top of pageLink to Alternative Site  Menu offering some additional information about each page and its contents.

Commentary and information about any of the ads or requests on this Web site can be sent by e-mail to the Webmaster

To the best of the author's knowledge none of the illustrations, in the format used on this site, are subject to copyright. If copyright has been inadvertently breached please contact the author in order to rectify the matter. All brands and logos referred to or illustrated on this site are the property of the relevant companies and copyright holders. However, commentary and other information produced by the author can be freely copied and distributed. Similarly, illustrations of ads, so long as they are accompanied by commentary or are presented in the form of parody, can also be copied and distributed but please acknowledge as the source. Translation of tobacco company ads and relevant commentary into languages other than English will be particularly welcomed.

Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003


Utility animation