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Put a pencil in your mouth – the power of priming

Marketing, Psychology, communications, priming

Priming is a nonconscious form of human memory, which is concerned with perceptual identification of words and objects.

It refers to activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. For example, a person who sees the word ‘yellow’ will be slightly faster to recognize the word ‘banana.’ This happens because the words yellow and banana are closely associated in memory. Priming can also refer to a technique in psychology used to train a person’s memory in both positive and negative ways.[1]

The power of subconscious priming on behaviour is not a new subject by any means – Vance Packard’s groundbreaking work The Hidden Persuaders was first published in 1957 and explored the psychological and subliminal techniques used by the advertising industry. Fifty six years on, and whilst we know that priming can work both for and against us, its power can still baffle and amaze and its very nature means we’re unlikely to realise we’ve been primed (perhaps until it’s too late…). As John Bargh says ‘Priming refers to the incidental activation of knowledge structures, such as trait concepts and stereotypes, by the current situational context.’.[2]

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