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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Subliminal retention is a short term memory process that consists of the exposure of a visual, verbal, or distorted cue, within a specific context or not, just for the sake of piquing the wavelengths of the brain.

The supposition is that, when the brain is consistently predicting a pattern, the application of a very sudden and brief break from the pattern elicits an impulse in the wavelength of stimulus which creates imagery that moves immediately to short memory. As a result, when someone is asked whether they saw "something different" to what they are used to seeing, the first recalled fact will be the distorted, visual, or verbal cue that was applied. 

A controversial study by James Vickary (controversial, because of allegations that it was flawed as far as controlled conditions, data analysis and established correlations) claimed that marketing works best when an intended product flashes out of nowhere and then disappears. The subliminal nature of the introduction of the product causes, according to theory, that the brain will retain that one piece of information due to the fact that

  • the brain can process subliminal information unconsciously
  • the sudden nature of the exposure breaks away from predictability and makes the cue more salient
  • depending on one's personal schema an instant connection can be made with the cue; maybe it appeals to the senses, or to emotions

Therefore, memory solidifies as a result of the combination of execution (how fast, appealing, and suddenly the cue is presented), unconscious neurological processes, and the appeal to the senses that it evokes.