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What is the first animal that comes to your mind when I say “Think of any animal except an Elephant

It doesn’t need any research to say, your answer is of course is an Elephant. In this example, I’ve primed you or I have used Priming effect on you. Which mean, I made you think in a pre-determined way. If you observe, I’ve consciously primed you but you have been primed without your conscious knowledge. Blame it to your lazy system 2 of your brain for leaving the task of thinking about the “animal” to system 1.

As humans we consider ourselves rational in our decision making, without realising we are primed in our decisions.

During COVID times we are primed with messages on virus and pandemic. The moment we hear about someone suffering from fever, without a blink of eye, we think it would be COVID.

Did you read the poster again? So you know, how much you are primed by the Coronavirus.

“Priming effect” definition

Priming is a tendency to respond to something based on expectations created by previous experience or associations. In other words responding to a stimulus based on Stimuli that you may have experienced .

Here is another example for you. Read the words
Now, if I ask you to think of a fruit. There is a high probability that you will this of the fruit Mango.

Priming effect – experiment

Psychologist John Bargh and his collaborators experimented with a group of students in New York University. The students were told that it was an English proficiency test and were given scrambled words to make a sentence. For one group of students, words included were “bald”, “forgetful” , “grey” “wrinkles” i.e. words associated with old age or elderly. After completing this task, the students were to walk down the hallway. The actual experiment, was measuring the speed with which the students walked down the hallway after doing the scrambled word experiment. The result, the students who were exposed to the words relating to elderly, walked slower than the students who were given other sets of words.

Reverse Priming

Reverse Priming also works. A study by a German university made students to walk for 5 minutes at the speed of 30 steps per minute (almost a third of their normal speed). After this the participants were quicker to recognise words related to old age.

Priming through our body

In another experiment, when participants were asked to watch a cartoon film with a pencil in the mouth. The first set of participants were asked to hold the pencil in a manner that the point end is in left direction and the rubber end facing the right direction (or Vice versa). The second set of participants were asked to hold in a manner that only the rubber end in held by pursing the lips. The first set of participants who were unknowingly smiling rated the cartoon funnier than the second set, who were frowning without realising.

What does this mean to us as individuals, body language shapes our thoughts and feelings. Amy Cuddy in her TED Talk “Your Body language may shape who you are” also talks about the same thing. So next time you are feeling under confident or low, sit up straight and you will already start feeling better.

Priming with positive

John Bargh in another experiment exposed first set of students to words like respect, courteous, gracious and the second set of students to words like bold, interrupt disturb, obnoxious. As second part of the experiement the students were suppose to go to another room and take instructions from the second experimenter. As part of the experiment, the second experimenter was speaking with another person for almost 10 minutes. The second set of students interrupted the experimenter almost 3 minutes earlier the first set of students.

We are also priming our children all the time. We prime our children with positive word, they would learn to be positive. Saying “study as it will help you” is positive priming and saying “study or your will fail” is negative priming, as the second statement is based on fear.

Money Primed

While there there are many implications of Priming but money primed takes a special mention. Psychologist Katheleen Vohs experimented with money primed participants and the findings were

  • persevered almost twice as long on solving a difficult problem.
  • They were less willing to help other student who were confused about the experiemental task. When the experimenter dropped pencils on the floor, the money primed participants picked up fewer pencils than those who were not
  • They showed greater preference of being alone

Kathleen’s findings also indicate the cultures which surrounds with money may shape our behaviours and attitudes in a manner that we may not be proud of. Cultures that promote dictatorial figures, reduce crime but also reduces spontaneous thinking and independent actions.

Priming for honesty

In an experiment in conducted in the office canteen of British University, the paid self service tea and coffee machines had a box next to it for dropping money. As part of the experiment, the poster on the wall was changed every week and an image of eyes and that of flower were alternated. The average collection was 70 pence and 15 pence per litre of milk in weeks when the image was that of eyes and that of flower respectively.

How does priming effect impact us

Ealier in this blog I’ve mentioned about how priming impact culture, behaviours and attitudes of individuals. Also sending out positive messages to children would prime them with a positive mindset.

Putting up positive messages as posters, ensuring we expose ourselves to positive messages every morning, will help us start our day by priming ourselves positively .


  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Everyday Bias by Howard J Ross

This theme is closely related to strong and weak association. Please read our blog by clicking on the link.

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