The hypothesis was that the subliminal presentation of sexual material would enhance the appraisal of the simultaneously presented visual material in a gender specific manner. Advertising literature (e.g. Key, 1989) supports this, suggesting symbols of masculinity like a penis to enhance the appraisal of male, yet not female subjects.
30 female and 49 male subjects were shown a painting (green) in a tachistoscope (Ralph Gerbrands Co., Mass.: T-4B-1) for 90 seconds. After 60s they were instructed that in 30 seconds they had to rate the picture on a scale from 1-10 (10 = best) based upon how well they liked it. After they had given their score for the first picture, the cycle was repeated with another painting (red). While displaying the red painting to the experimental groups, a photo of a penis was presented for 1ms every 0,49s. In the control groups (and during the presentation of the green picture) a flash of light was presented for 1ms every 0,49s instead.
Within sexes there was no significant difference between control and experimental groups. Only a tendency for male experimental subjects to rate the picture with the subliminal penis higher than controls (p=0,18) could be detected.
Female experimental and control groups didn't differ at all (p=0,60).
However, between sexes the male experimental group rated the "penis-picture" (red) significantly higher than both the female control (p=0,02) and experimental group (p=0,03). The male control group didn't differ significantly from either female group (p=0,36 and p=0,19).
On the first picture (green) with no subliminal stimulation in either group, no within or between sex differences were found (Se same tables as above) (see graphs for the red and the green picture).
The study found differences in the influence between the sexes, but no difference within sexes between control and experimental groups. A statistically significant difference between the male control and experimental groups would have strengthened the argument for subliminal influence.
This lack of significance could be due to weaknesses in the experimental design. Rating a non subliminally influenced painting (green) none of the groups were found to differ. In addition to this, the pattern between the control groups was the same as for the red picture, whereas the pattern for the experimental groups changed (see graphs). This supports the presence of a subliminal effect that is gender specific, but underlines the subtlety of the effect this design was capable of producing.
The study found a significant difference between male and female subjects in the effect of subliminally presented sexual symbols. Shown concurrently with a subliminally presented picture of a penis, male subjects rated a painting significantly higher than female subjects.