Priming – subtle cues trigger judgments and actions

July 31, 2007

Who’s Minding the Mind?

NYTimes July 31 2007

“The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical
person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more
selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup
of hot java.

Findings like this one, as improbable as they
seem, have poured forth in psychological research over the last few
years. New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when
there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more
competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if
they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” — all without being
aware of the change, or what prompted it.

Psychologists say that
“priming” people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even
subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday
sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives
that people already have.

More fundamentally, the new studies
reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and
independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or
devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only
be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of
running the program it chooses.”

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