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Priming Principle

 

Principles > Priming Principle

Principle | How it works | So what?

Principle

When thinking and deciding, we are influenced by related information from the past.

How it works

When we are thinking about something, our memories supply information that helps us understand, make sense, decide and act on the subject at hand. Those things that come more easily to mind will have a more immediate effect, while those things which are long forgotten may have little or no effect. Things encountered recently come more easily to mind, and hence have a disproportionate influential effect.

This seems quite obvious, yet it has far-ranging and subtle effects, for example recent talk about elderly people can result in people walking more slowing.

Priming is driven by implicit memory, where recall is entirely unconscious as the person 'just knows' without having to think hard or otherwise put effort into remembering or working things out.

Priming is also known as stimulating, cuing and triggering.

Association

Memory is highly associative and hence linkage back to similar things in the past is common. For example in early research it was found that when giving people anagrams to identify, they would work out 'doctor' faster if a previous word was 'nurse' than if the previous word was 'bread'. If you ask a person to say 'white' several times and then ask them what cows drink, they'll likely say 'milk'.

Bias

Many forms of bias and other decision errors are based on prior information affecting current thoughts. This often happens unconsciously as our current thoughts are primed by prior data. Many biases are formed in our early years, where memories are fixed and become critical parts of our personalities.

Conditioning

In conditioning, a stimulus is associated with an action. Thereafter, the stimulus acts as a trigger that causes the action to be completed. Priming is a broader effect than this as the trigger can be effectively set some time before the action. In conditioning, there is also a defined action whereas in priming the effect can be highly varied. Both, however, work on the principle of cause and effect.

Broad effect

Priming does not need to be specifically about the item in question, for example a recent national disaster such as a flood can lead to people giving more to any charity as they feel more public-spirited, particularly if news coverage of the disaster showed other people helping out.

Subliminal priming

While flashing adverts for a fraction of a second are questionable and have been challenged, there has also been research showing that such short-term information that we hardly notice can still have an effect in changing later choices.

Emphasis

Priming effectively creates an imbalance in things being considered, introducing or putting emphasis on one item or area of concern.

Provocation

You can provoke people to act through things you say and do, even if there is a gap between the provocation and the action. This is a principle used by activists who use provocative displays that are easily remembered and may influence your later choices (where the influence may be conscious or unconscious).

Similarity

We tend to trust people who are similar to us in some way. In effect, the similarity acts as a cue to help us think about how we are like the other person.

Availability

The availability heuristic is an effect where thoughts about frequency or likelihood of an event is influenced by things that come easily to mind. For example recent news about a car accident may make us feel we are more likely to crash our cars.

Recency

Trying to remember things that have happened can be difficult. In the recency effect, we more easily remember things that are recent, before they sink into the morass of other memories.

So what?

To use priming in persuasion, provide people with information beforehand, perhaps just once and in a different setting. Then focus on a normal persuasion. For example to persuade a friend to go to see a movie, you may leave the book on which the movie is based out on the table.

See also

Unthinking principle, Priming, Availability Heuristic, Recency Effect, Memory, Prime and Prompt, Pre-thanking, Pre-apology, Pre-excusing, Pregiving, Pre-emptive Thanks, Mind-reading

 

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