Priming refers to how our behaviour is often influenced by subconscious cues (implicit memories). This means that our response to one stimulus has an impact on how we react to a second stimulus. Priming can occur in many ways, including with words and stereotypical phrases that make us take on the characteristics we would expect from a given stereotype.
But we can also be primed using numbers (see below), objects (e.g. see money) and behaviour. Read the question below and try to answer it with the first number that comes into your head.
- A bat and ball cost $1.10 (one dollar and ten cents).
The bat costs $1 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
Many people find that the answer that comes most easily to mind is 10 cents, but this is wrong as if the ball cost 10 cents the total cost would be $1.20. No, the correct answer is 5 cents, but we are primed to say 10 cents because the number 10 is mentioned twice, once in number form and again in letters.
Word association is also an example of priming. Psychologists have found that the exposure to a word results in immediate and measurable changes in the ease with which related words can be recalled. In some cases words have also been found to change how we do things as we align with stereotypical behaviour. This is why brands have to be careful about using words, phrases or images that have strong associations with topics that could harm or distract from the value proposition.
Gestures can also subconsciously affect our thoughts and attitudes. In one study participants were asked to listen to some editorial radio messages through some new headphones to test the quality of the audio equipment. Half the respondents were asked to nod their heads up and down and the rest were told to shake their head from side to side.
The psychologists found that when they asked participants about the messages, those that had been nodding (a yes gesture) had a tendency to accept the message they had heard, whilst those that had been shaking their heads (a no gesture) tended to disagree with it.
According to research priming people with reminders of money makes them more independent and willing to persevere with a difficult task longer than participants who hadn’t been primed. Further, money-primed people are more selfish as they were less willing to assist a fellow student who was having difficulties with an assignment. In another experiment money-primed respondents chose to be physically much further away from a person they were due to talk to and they were found to have a greater desire to be alone.
The effects of priming are with us all the time as our associative machinery is constantly working in our subconscious to process and influence our beliefs and actions. Priming occurs in System 1, our fast, intuitive mind and so we have no conscious awareness of the process. But System 1 creates the impressions that frequently translate into our beliefs, and it produces the impulses that drive much our behaviour.
We should not be surprised then that subtle differences in brand communications can significantly alter how we respond to a message. Use word association tools to check that images are strongly aligned to the brand and product category.
To prime visitors to create a positive experience use humour in communications and adverts to put visitors in a positive frame of mind. By just getting people to smile makes them feel happier and research has shown it enhances product liking by mere association.
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