Subliminal Book Summary By Leonard Mlodinow

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Subliminal is a fascinating book that dives into the depths of the human mind.

In it, the reader finds exploration of unconscious processes such as memory recall, choosing a mate, buying stocks, and scheduling projects.

Through historical events, science experiments and personal experiences, this book reveals how our unconscious minds govern us yet remain largely unknown to us.

Comprised of anecdotes and studies from scientific experts as well as its authors’ own research, Subliminal explores how our conscious actions are often ruled by subconscious decision-making.

It is an enlightening read for any individual who is interested in broadening their understanding of the complexities of the brain.

Subliminal Book

Book Name: Subliminal (How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior)

Author(s): Leonard Mlodinow

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 31 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

Leonard Mlodinow is a renowned physicist and bestselling science author.

He holds a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California, and currently teaches at the California Institute of Technology.

His works draw inspiration from his parents, who were concentration camp prisoners during World War II.

Additionally, Leonard has collaborated with esteemed scientists like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, as well as written scripts for popular TV science fiction series such as Star Trek.

Uncovering The Mysteries Of Our Unconscious Mind: A Summary Of Subliminal

Unconscious Mind

Do our decisions always reflect conscious, rational choices? Subliminal argues that our unconscious mind has a much greater impact on our decision-making than we may realize.

This book reveals the irrational behavior that is often driven by our subconscious; for example, it demonstrates why people are more likely to be attracted to someone when standing on a high bridge.

By reading this book in sections, readers will better understand how their unconscious mind affects how they make decisions.

It covers topics such as why some of us feel “special,” why emotions can be tricky to manage, and so much more.

You can learn the answers to all of these questions and more by diving into Subliminal’s insights into the role of the unconscious mind in decision-making.

Unlocking The Mysteries Of The Unconscious Mind With Neuroscience

For hundreds of years, scientists and philosophers have strived to unlock the mysteries of the unconscious mind.

Immanuel Kant proposed that human perception was not an objective reality and Sigmund Freud suggested that repressed memories made up the unconscious.

Neither theory held up to scientific scrutiny, so research moved on to other parts of psychology.

While many believed that humans were just complex yet predictable machines with brains like computers, this view began to shift in the 1980s when technology allowed us to map the brain’s organization and activity more accurately than ever before.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings enabled neuroscientists to observe neural pathways during tasks as well as measure blood flow and oxygen consumption in research subjects.

From these technological advances we were able to understand how the three layers of the brain work together: Reptilian (essential functions such as breathing), Old Mammalian (unconscious social behaviors) and Neocortex (goal-related action and conscious thought).

This data has given us an unprecedented look into the complexities of the human mind, proving that our understanding of the subconscious is far richer than had previously been thought.

Our Unconscious Mind Is Key To Survival And Adaptability

Our unconscious mind is constantly gathering information from the environment and our senses.

This data helps us to stay safe, avoid potential threats, and take advantage of opportunities for food and mates.

For example, when it comes to vision, light is received by the eyes and processed in a part of the brain called the visual cortex.

However, even when someone’s visual cortex is damaged, their unconscious mind can still grab hold of that raw data from their senses and make sure they stay out of danger.

This is demonstrated by a man who lost his sight after suffering a stroke.

Researchers found that he could still detect whether a face was happy or angry, as well as successfully navigate an obstacle course without walking into any obstructions – all using only the raw data being fed to him through his eyes.

The brilliance of our unconscious mind is that it turns this imperfect raw data into something useful for our conscious mind by filtering it out.

We often don’t realise that our eyes have a blind spot or think about how much they move on their own every second; yet our brains are able to process this input accurately before passing it on to our conscious minds.

The Power Of Unconscious Body Language: How We Communicate Without Knowing It

Body Language

Body language can tell us a lot about how people feel and what they think.

It allows us to unconsciously interpret the behavior and opinions of those around us.

We do this almost instinctively, without putting in any effort or actively trying to read body language.

From our ancestors, we have inherited the ability to read others’ facial expressions, and these expressions are still universal for humans today.

For example, some expressions like fear or disgust are identified the same way by members of various cultures from around the world.

In addition to conveying social signals, body language also influences how we think about other people without our conscious intent.

A study which presented photos of neutral faces rated as either successful or unsuccessful showed that observers responded to expectations given off by the first set of students who asked questions about the photos – simply due to their unconscious body language.

These examples show just how important body language is in terms of interpreting the opinions and behavior of other people.

From monkeys baring their teeth and chimps smiling to avoid attack, through to humans giving off expectations without intending it – it’s clear that understanding body language can give insight into how people feel and think!

The Power Of Voice: How Our Bodies Adjust To Attract Attention And Pass Judgement

Our voice can tell potential mates, rivals, and others a lot about us.

Unconscious changes in our vocal tones can advertise our attractiveness to the opposite sex and convey information about our character to others.

Evidence from experiments shows how males will adjust their pitch depending on how powerful they feel compared to their rivals.

Females, meanwhile, prefer deeper-pitched voices and gravitate towards men whose voices are laced with higher levels of testosterone — even if it has no correlation with physique.

Actors generally use an already low-pitched voice for dramatic effect because people perceive these as more honest and persuasive.

The purpose of these subtle changes in our voice go beyond romantic attraction, though: people judge characters based on their voice too!

In fact, scientists conducted an experiment where they mixed up vocal recordings so that subjects would only receive the qualities of a person’s voice without understanding the meaning behind it.

The results showed that high-pitched voices were deemed more anxious and dishonest while slower ones appear less convincing yet apathetic at the same time.

On the other hand, fast ones are considered to be knowledgeable with sharpness in its tone while voices that have variation reflects brightness and liveliness — just look at former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher who had to practice lowering her pitch as she wanted a successful career in politics!

Therefore, from evolutionary perspectives we can see how our vocal characteristics play an important role in forcing us to make quick judgments about others determine when we may want them as partners or simply avoid them altogether.

How Our Memory System Protects Us, But Can Sometimes Lead To Mistakes

Our memories cannot hold every detail that we experience in life, which is why our memory has evolved to only store important memories in general form.

To make up for the lack of detail, our unconscious mind fills in the gaps with stories from these fragmented memories and the situations that we experience.

This means that although our unconscious mind can help us piece together information, it isn’t always accurate.

In fact, research shows that 25 percent of witnesses incorrectly pick out a suspect from a lineup, or 75 percent of people being exonerated from crimes due to incorrect eyewitness statements.

A prime example would be when a rape victim picked out someone from a police lineup who ended up going to jail for the crime, when it was actually somebody else; DNA evidence was then able to provide insight into the real attacker’s identity.

So while we may rely on our unconscious minds to fill in missing gaps in our memories, it is important to keep in mind that this isn’t always reliable – so proceed with caution!

We Can’t Always Explain Our Emotions Because They Come From Our Unconscious Mind

Unconscious Mind

Emotions are, by their very nature, rooted in our unconscious minds.

Instead of being understood and rationalized, they are a product of sensory data and the biases we carry within us.

Because these elements come from our unconscious mind, it can be difficult for us to recognize and accurately identify our emotions.

For example, when faced with a situation like an attractive person asking us questions on a bridge, we may feel a mix of increased heart rate and alertness that is interpreted as flirtation.

This feeling arises without our conscious knowledge – but despite this lack of understanding, we might still confidently explain why we reacted in such a way.

A study around this highlighted this point: male participants were asked which one of two women they found more attractive when presented photos of them side by side.

Unbeknownst to the participants—the researcher had switched some of the photos up and asked them once more to justify their answers when presented face down again despite the switch having been made.

In most cases, they hadn’t noticed it had been changed but nonetheless gave explanations that reflected their first impression—showing that even without knowing why their emotions were rooted from the start, they remained reliable indicators regardless.

The Power Of Motivated Reasoning: How Our Pre-Determined Beliefs Influence Our Perceptions Of Reality

When it comes to making decisions, we are all biased.

We have a strong tendency to base our decisions on our pre-decided beliefs and ignore any evidence that might dispute them.

Even scientists aren’t immune to this phenomenon, often defending strongly-held positions despite significant evidence to the contrary.

For instance, in the 1950s and early 1960s one group of scientists firmly believed that the universe existed in a steady state with no beginning or end; another group held the opposing view was that the universe started with a Big Bang.

When radio astronomers discovered the afterglow of the big bang in 1964, some of these scientists continued to defend their original belief over thirty years later even when presented with undeniable proof.

Consequently, our decision making can profoundly affect how we interpret facts and information; different people can come away from identical situations with varying conclusions based simply on their preconceived beliefs.

A case study involving a mock lawsuit between plaintiff and defendant highlighted this perfectly – even when offered an incentive for accurately predicting a cash settlement amount, each volunteer drew drastically different amounts based on their assumed role as either plaintiff or defendant.

At he end of the day, it’s clear that we all tend to perpetuate our own biases when defending previously held beliefs – no matter what form they take!

It’S Human Nature To See Ourselves In An Unrealistically Positive Light

We all have an inflated sense of our own capabilities, and this overconfidence makes us prone to overestimating our abilities.

This can be seen in the story of the three mental patients who believed they were Jesus.

Despite being in the wrong and against all logic, two of them still maintained their delusion.

This phenomenon is prevalent in everyday life, as well.

For instance, a study revealed that all 1 million high school seniors examined agreed they were at least average when it came to getting along with people, while 25% even declared themselves in the top 1%!

College professors seemed to share this bias towards their work as 94% thought their efforts were superior to the majority.

Unfortunately for us, this kind of self-belief leads us to expect more from ourselves than we can actually accomplish.

One clear area where this effect is noticeable is task scheduling: individuals tend to be overly optimistic about how long it will take them to complete tasks and projects, resulting in cost and time overruns on everything from military technology to construction projects.

This sort of thinking has its roots in evolution, as having belief and confidence was key for human development and adaptation.

In essence, without it we would probably still be stuck fashioning flint tools rather than working on rockets or artificial intelligence!

How Human Nature And Neuroscience Help Us Understand The Need For Socialization


Our unconscious minds drive us to be sociable, and we can see this from the moment we are born.

Babies are attracted to friendly faces, and they instinctively shy away from any hostility — even when they see fake faces with eyes stuck on them.

Research suggests that it’s in our nature to be social and our brains have evolved to help us understand complex relationships between people.

scientists call this “Theory of Mind” – a key skill required for successful social interactions.

And the size of a species’ neocortex is linked to the size of its social group – gorillas band together in groups of ten, macaque monkeys have an average group size of 40, while humans have an average social group of 150.

However, what happens when we don’t follow this need for sociability? When we are excluded or left out then cut ourselves off from society, not only do we suffer pangs of social pain; but also physical illness too.

That’s because there is a direct link between the part of our brain which processes emotion (the anterior cingulate cortex) and physical pain itself.

Put simply – if you’re feeling isolated and depressed then it manifests itself in your body as physical aches and pains.

Furthermore, studies show that a life marked by chronic loneliness increases your chances for high blood pressure and obesity, as well as a decreased life expectancy.

Understanding The Unseen Forces That Govern Our Behavior

Our social behavior is largely determined by chemicals in our brains, as well as unconscious habits.

Scientists and philosophers have long studied the unique complexity of the human thought process, but it turns out that many of our reactions are guided by much simpler principles found throughout nature.

For example, certain brain chemicals have been shown to determine how trusting we are of other people.

In females sheep, they become more loving towards their offspring and any nearby lambs during childbirth due to a protein released in the brain called oxytocin – which humans also experience when sexually intimate or even hugging.

Humans also tend to follow pattern-based behavior without realising it; one study had a researcher wait until someone was using a photocopier before asking if they could use it too – 40 percent said no unless there was a reason given (which dropped to 6 percent), leading scientists to speculate that we’re just following an unconscious instruction like a computer program.

This indicates that much of our social behaviour is governed by factors beyond our control, rather than us being masters of our own destiny.

Understanding And Overcoming Unconscious Biases: Achieving Fairness Through Awareness And Empathy

People rely on implicit stereotypes and labels to form opinions of others in society, and these have a big impact on how we view them.

A study found that people were less likely to report a store thief if they appeared well-dressed as opposed to unshaven and wearing work clothes.

This shows how powerful our unconscious biases are and that we often form judgments based on superficial characteristics.

The Implicit Association Test also demonstrates this same effect, with 70 percent of people associating black people with failure and white people with success – even amongst those who think themselves as non-racist!

This is just one example – many other prejudices exist beneath the surface and stigmatizing sentiments are all too common.

Unconsciously expressed prejudice has a huge influence over society; it might cause us to categorize old people as careless or women as better at the arts than science.

Media and culture can further spread these widespread inaccurate descriptions, leading us down the rabbit hole of thinking in terms of stereotypes.

But controlling our unconscious mind is possible – if we identify these hidden prejudices it’s easier to manage them.

Making an effort to increase empathy towards others who don’t fit our predetermined boxes is essential.

Spending time with those who challenge stereotypical assumptions will help override any thoughts formed under shallow judgement, broadening horizons while improving understanding of one another in modern society.

We Can’t Help But Prejudice Those Outside Our Group, Even Randomly Assigned Ones


We all instinctively look for a group that we can identify with, and this instinct can lead to prejudice in favor of members and against non-members.

This was evidenced in a study of professionals such as doctors and hairdressers who rated the members of their own profession higher than those from other professions.

It doesn’t even have to be an actual or meaningful group to fuel prejudice; even when volunteers were randomly assigned to prefer either artist Wassily Kandinsky or Paul Klee, they still gave more money to those assigned to their own artist contrary to people who preferred the other artist.

The need for psychological comfort that comes with being part of a group often leads us to feeling superior over non-members, especially if the groups are entirely arbitrary, such as in this case where no preference or specialist knowledge was required.

Even the tragic 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre saw identities melt away for a short while, demonstrating how everyone saw themselves as unified New Yorkers regardless of wealth or race.

Therefore, it’s clear that our instinctual drive to identify ourselves with certain groups can drive us towards showing prejudice – in favor of members within that group and against non-members outside it.

The Illusion Of Complete Choice: How Irrelevant Factors Influence Our Decisions

From the foods we buy to the people we vote for, many of our decisions are in fact influenced by trivial and seemingly unimportant details.

For instance, studies have shown that a company’s stock and share performance can be greatly affected by something as simple as the pronunciation of its name!

Hard-to-pronounce companies often tend to fare worse than their easy-to-say counterparts.

We also make purchases based on such subtle factors – whether or not enthusiasts know it.

An experiment conducted in a supermarket found that what type of wine people bought was heavily dependent upon the background music being played.

When French music was playing, customers were more likely to pick up French wine, while German music caused them to opt for German products.

Although those asked refused to acknowledge the influence of music over their decision.

Physical appearance too has been known to play a huge part in how certain individuals are judged – even when they’re running for public office!

A face effect exists where voters rate candidates on their competence just by looking at their photo – having sway over whether politicians get elected into power or not.

A famous instance is the 1960 US presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy which was broadcasted both on radio and TV stations.

While everyone who watched via TV saw Kennedy win comfortably, those who listened over radio thought Nixon performed better due to his deep and resonant voice in comparison to Kennedy’s high pitched one .

In truth, Kennedy had won by just a small margin!

It proves that we make choices in life based on trivial details; details of which we may be unaware of.

Wrap Up

Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow helps us to understand the fascinating workings of our unconscious mind.

It gives us actionable tips on how to maximize our use of this part of ourselves in situations such as those involving decision-making, socializing and investing.

Firstly, by using body language we can sway decisions in our favor.

We need to be aware of our visual dominance ratio when we are talking and listening to someone, as it will determine the perception of hierarchy and dominance we possess.

Secondly, calming ourselves before making important judgments is key as our physiological responses from recent events can taint them.

Lastly, buying products based on quality rather than environmental factors is essential in order not to get swayed by packaging which doesn’t represent the content inside at all.

In conclusion, Subliminal has provided key insights into how our unconscious mind works so that we can make wiser decisions in the present.

Through this understanding comes greater control over our self-perception and actions towards others.

If applied correctly, these helpful concepts will contribute to success both inside and outside the workplace.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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