Subconscious Framing – how does it happen? #ARTS3091

10 Apr

Lakoff & Johnson pose the idea that, “Neurons operate below the level of consciousness,” and that our brains function as “conceptual structures.” Zooming in on this notion of “conceptual structures”, it’s interesting to consider Fillmore’s “semantic frames”. This idea encapsulates the idea that when we think of certain words, e.g. a “restaurant”, our mind uses it as a frame. We automatically place our general knowledge or experience of restaurants, i.e. “waiters, menus, checks” etc within this frame.


Delving into this idea of “framing”, it must be questioned, does this media control and shape our subconscious frames?


Let’s consider how advertisements have shaped our subconscious ‘cigarette frame’. In the 21stC, many people would arguably place bleak concepts such as lung cancer, drugs, youths etc in the frame of cigarette smoking. However, back in the 1930s, it was a frame of glamour and trend. Are our subconscious frames more heavily influenced through personal experience, such as loved ones dying from cancer, or simply through the media’s smoking campaigns?


Furthermore, let’s critically analyse how newspaper photos shape our ‘cultural frames’ – specifically focusing on the “White Australia” culture.

Firstly, let’s look at the SMH’s photo:


Prima facie, it’s simply a photo with happy schoolboys. However, the way in which it’s been shot arguably influences our subconscious to create a frame of white/western culture. The wide shot of three high school Aboriginal boys standing proudly in front of the prestigious looking school building with big grins on their faces, suggests that they are happier and more fulfilled since they have been immersed into a western education and culture. The bright lighting of the image implies that white Australian’s are to thank for uplifting Aboriginal youths out of their apparent sadness, giving them the chance of happiness away from their families.


This frame of white/western culture is reinforced through the Advertiser’s photo:


The bright lighting and low angle looking up at Langford-Smith symbolises him as a sort of “angel”, who is there to feed, nurture, educate and support the children. This is reinforced by the caption, “…offers the children breakfast and lunch. Mr Langford-Smith said food is a major incentive to get kids to school”, characterising him as a caring father-figure. The clean looking children who are munching down food, smiling and waving their hands for joy represents how apparently happy they are when they are looked after by white people.


Again, the questioned must be posed, how are subconscious frames created and shaped? Do we even have power over frames, or even the way our mind works to connect certain ideas, concepts and values?



 Hartely-Allen, D and Toohey, P 2013, ‘Hopes and Fears of Aboriginal Children’ (30-photo pictorial), the Herald Sun, accessed 10 March 2014,


Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1999) ‘The Efficacious Cognitive Unconscious’ in Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, New York: Basic Books: 115-117.


McNeilage, A 2013, ‘More Aboriginal Children making it right to the top’, the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Ausgust, accessed 10 April 2014,  


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