Aguirre talk links media, hypnosis
Texas sports legends Randy White and “Too Tall” Jones balled their fists and aggressively gritted their teeth in a 1987 “Don’t Mess with Texas” commercial from the Texas State Department of Highways.
The message of the PSA? Pick up your litter.
“Advertisements are very effective at driving behaviors,” lecturer Nic Aguirre explained Thursday in his talk, “Hypnosis in the Media,” the second of a series of virtual conversations, called Gather, hosted by The Media School.
The lecture provided theoretical explanations and examples of the ways people are hypnotized by media messages, specifically advertisements or PSAs, often without even realizing it.
“You criticize and evaluate ideas before they’re accepted or believed, but there’s many, many ways to bypass those filters,” Aguirre said. “Hypnosis is one of those ways.”
Hypnosis does not just take the form of someone entering a trance state and closing their eyes, said Aguirre, who is a hypnotist. It’s also “anything that attempts to control or modify human behavior through the influence or creation of belief systems.”
Aguirre said hypnosis is the equivalent to influence.
“It’s not about how necessarily you control people, but how you influence people,” he said.
He said hypnotic modalities — forms of influence — arrive in three forms.
The first is authority, which can be anything from special clothes and props (such as scrubs identifying medical personnel), to setting and environment (a stage or podium conveying power and attention), to credentials and titles (college diplomas hanging on a wall).
In the “Don’t Mess with Texas” example, authority arrived in the form of White and Jones urging their fellow Texans to pick up their trash or they would have “a message for them.”
What’s more, authority can also be conveyed in communication patterns, specifically certainty. In fact, wording or a script can be secondary if visuals are the main event, Aguirre said.
Aguirre demonstrated this modality by showing audience members the notorious 1984 Apple commercial. Certainty was conveyed in eye-catching sights and sounds, with absolutely no mention of the product that was being sold.
“The commercial didn’t say anything about how their computers were superior quality,” Aguirre said. “Apple didn’t have to do any of that. They just gave you an idea for a narrative about what’s going on and how they’re different and innovating.”
The second hypnotic modality is a doctrine, or argument.
“We need some kind of process to evaluate. We need to satisfy the critical mind. A few different ways you can do that is through a written form of a theory or message, a paradigm, special terminology or facts and figures,” Aguirre said.
The “Don’t Mess with Texas” PSA evoked emotional appeal and created a catchy phrase in the process.
“There’s not a strong argument being made, and that’s OK,” Aguirre said. “The (emotional) overload is very powerful. You remember it, and it’s very engaging.”
The third and final hypnotic modality is overload, specifically emotional and sensory overload. According to Aguirre, this can take the form of any of the five senses.
In 1987, Partnership for a Drug-Free America released a PSA titled, “This Is Your Brain on Drugs.” In the video, a woman holds an egg up to the camera, comparing it to the viewer’s brain. In her other hand, she wields a cast-iron skillet.
“This is what happens to your brain after snorting heroin,” she says. The woman proceeds to crush the egg with the skillet and compares the dripping yolk on the bottom of the pan to “what your body goes through.”
“Whoever you’re impacting with these modalities, they have to feel something,” Aguirre said. “That makes it real. We understand that it’s an emotion that people make more decisions with rather than with logic.”
These modalities are prevalent because they serve as ways for humans to understand uncharted territory.
“We do not like unknowns. We want to limit or mitigate risk. We want to have safety and certainty in our survival,” Aguirre said. “So we are going to take shortcuts and rely on others. You can’t always sit around and think for a very long time. You’re going to have to take your best shot and go with your gut instinct.”
The “This is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA urges viewers to trust what the woman is saying regarding the effects heroin has on your body and mind, rather than going through the process themselves.
While awareness of these modalities won’t necessarily prevent someone from being susceptible to media messages that use them, Aguirre hopes individuals will now have the tools to recognize what kind of filters they are viewing media messages through.
“All hypnosis is self-hypnosis,” he said.