Priming: Meaning, Benefits and How to Use It

Priming occurs in many situations, for instance when somebody is studying for an exam and listening to music at the same time. It is also useful for advertisers because it makes their message stronger. The article is about priming and how it can be used to make things easier for you or others.

What is priming?

It is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when one stimulus influences a person’s response to another stimulus.

Scientists consider it as an implicit memory effect because it influences our behavior outside of our awareness. It also describes the way in which stimuli are processed by the brain, even if we are unaware this processing has occurred.

Listening to music can be benefitial to learn new things

Unconscious priming effects

Priming evokes a response without conscious awareness. In addition, it influences cognitive processing, including memory, social behavior, and visual perception. In other words, you carry a small part of your previous experience with a stimulus into a new situation where it influences unconscious behavior.

This event happens on the system 1 level in our brain, which is the automatic cognitive system. For example: if somebody is unconsciously aware that they have seen a word they may be more likely to recognize the stimulus when they encounter it again in different situations.

Memory retrieval takes place during priming

When you are primed, specific memory retrieval is happening, which is why it’s also called associative memory. This means that the stimulus will activate an association in your brain, be it to another word or concept.

There must be related or connected units to the initial stimulus in your memory to “activate” priming effects. In other words, priming occurs only when you already have associations with the stimuli you are exposed to.

Priming affects subsequent behavior

When a stimulus appears your response to a subsequent stimulus is affected. In other words, because of the first stimulus, you respond differently to a second stimulus.

For example: when you are primed with the word “doctor” this influences your brain to process “nurse” as part of the same category, even though they’re two entirely different professions.

Benefits of priming

What are the benefits of priming?

This phenomenon can trigger automatic cognitive behavior, that is, people behave without thinking about what they are doing. Knowing how priming works can enable them to act with intention and influence their subsequent responses during psychological experiments.

Benefits for people in general

Priming helps people remember information. Let’s suppose we give somebody the word “light”. Shortly afterward we ask him or her to remember a list of words. That person will more likely recall the word “lamp” because he or she has been primed by the previous stimulus.

It allows people to act automatically with minimal cognitive effort. For example, when somebody does not have time to think about what they are doing. Or when they need to act quickly.

Benefits for people in advertising

Priming can be useful for marketers, who often want to get their message across to consumers without drawing attention to it. The goal is to prime a consumer with an advertisement or product they hope will make buying more likely.

One example is food advertising. A study found that when people saw the M of Mcdonalds they were more likely to want an unhealthy snack than those who weren’t previously exposed to this stimulus. This shows how stimuli can affect behavior unconsciously.

It is also useful in marketing terms, as it strengthens memory for brands and products. What happens when the logo of a product appears in a film? By seeing this stimulus repeatedly, consumers are more likely to trust and choose that brand because it has been primed by the advertisement.

Benefits for people that want to change a habit or an addiction

Understanding what priming is and how it works can be beneficial for people who are trying to change a habit or addiction. By watching out for its effects, they may be able to avoid some habits or addictions of their old routine.

Types of Priming

Types of priming

Within psychology, there are several different types of priming, including:

  • Masked priming
  • Repetition priming
  • Positive priming
  • Negative priming
  • Semantic priming
  • Conceptual priming
  • Perceptual priming
  • Associative priming

Masked priming

This happens when you can’t consciously register a stimulus, but your brain perceives it and responds to it. In other words, you are aware of the stimulus but there is no way you can process it consciously.

For example, if somebody is playing a video game and they hear an auditory stimulus that doesn’t make sense. If they are shown the written word half a second after hearing this sound their brain will process the word faster even though it was heard subliminally.

Repetition priming

It is a kind of positive priming. Your brain is more prone to repeat something if you feel at ease and accustomed to it. Repetition priming is useful for the brain because it makes thoughts and behavior more efficient.

If you associate effectiveness with a cleaning brand because of commercials, this stimulus will lead to positive priming, making you more to choose that brand when you want to clean something.

Positive priming

It occurs when priming affects the speed of processing and responding to stimuli. For example, you might respond to a stimulus more quickly than usual because it has been primed by another stimulus.

Another example of positive priming is when somebody sees the name of a smart person and this increases their performance on a task. However, people who are not familiar with the name of a smart person may take longer to respond, as they do not have the same automatic response.

Negative priming

It slows down the speed of processing by your mind negatively. Once it has been primed, you are slower to respond to a stimulus.

Let’s think of a common example of negative priming: somebody has just had a long, difficult day at work and they arrive home to see their partner in front of the television. If we ask them to do an activity that might seem simple, like making tea or coffee for themselves, it will take longer because their mind is busy with other stimuli.

Semantic priming

It happens when two stimuli or associations are similar in meaning, and these connections then affect your response to a new stimulus. For instance, if you hear the word “dog” the priming effect would be that you think of a certain breed because they are closely related in meaning.

Conceptual priming

It occurs when something in the same category has already been processed, and therefore you are more likely to process a different stimulus in the same way. You process them easier because you associate two stimuli that are often seen together.

Because they belong to the same category as fruit, words such as “orange” and “banana” are likely to show priming effects.

Perceptual priming

It happens when something looks like something else. In other words, perceptual priming occurs when you are more likely to be able to see something because it resembles another stimulus.

An example of perceptual priming is if somebody sees a face in a cloud, as they have been primed to see the shape of a face.

Associative priming

It occurs when you process information faster because of your previous experiences. In other words, you use your previous knowledge to make predictions about a situation and this speeds up the way you process stimuli.

When you hear the word Christmas you associate it with the Christmas tree and gifts, and therefore it takes you less time to process this word.

How to use priming

How to use priming

As you can see, priming occurs in many situations. You can use priming on yourself or on others. When you want to use it on others it is best to avoid being aware of it, as they may notice your behavior. In general, negative stimuli will make things harder for you, while positive stimuli make things easier.

Giving an overview when learning

When you want to learn something, first get a quick overview and you will be more likely to process and encode the information better. By first scanning everything quickly it won’t be new information when you try to remember it.

Giving the brain pleasant stimuli

When you are feeling down, get information on something that is likely to cheer you up. This will prime your brain with a positive reaction to something and it might be easier for you to process things in a more positive way.

Connecting sounds with positive feelings

If somebody is studying for an exam and listening to music at the same time, they might become primed with positive feelings. When they study and learn new information it will be easier for them to associate this information positively.

Using positive messages and stereotypes

Positive words can also be used as positive priming words, such as efficient, together, helpful, goal, well-organized, and team. Use these words when talking to people and they will be more likely to respond positively.

Using negative messages or stereotypes can also achieve results. For example, when people hear the word “dishonest,” they are less likely to comply with a request and are more likely to act selfishly. Negative priming words could include words like failure, disorder, mistake, error. So try to avoid using these words when talking to people.

Using visuals

Surround yourself with visuals that inspire you and help you to process information better. For example, if you need to learn something new it might be easier for you to study in a room that is full of inspiration than one that is dull and boring.

Visuals are important to process information

A word from Sublime People

In summary, priming is when a stimulus affects your response to another stimulus without you consciously being aware of it. It can be useful for advertisers because it can strengthen their message, especially if it is a positive one.

You can use the information you learned on yourself or others to make things easier for them or you. You can also use it in combination with music or visuals that are around you. This makes it possible for the brain to associate words with something more pleasant. Consequently, it is easier for you to process and encode information.