What is Priming in psychology? Understanding Why you do What you do!

Yash Kedia
5 min readSep 18, 2020


What is Priming in psychology?

Complete the word fragments

S_ _ T

S_ _ P

W_ _ H

B_ _ _ D

You have a crush on someone in your locality. At the most opportune moment, you come across her and break the ice. During your timeless conversation with her, she mentions that she loves charity. What happens next? You start loving charity too! You exaggerate how charitable you were and how being one is an excellent human trait.

Well, you have already expected this to happen. You do get influenced by things or people that attract you. Priming is nothing but influence. However, this type of priming occurred at a conscious level. What about the subconscious one?

If you have ever wondered,

Why dictator’s portraits are hung all over the place in dictatorial societies?

Why you prefer SOAP instead of SOUP or SHIP or vice versa?

Why did you answer SPIT instead of SHOT?

Why will smiling for a minute will actually make you feel optimistic about things around you?

Why, if you frown a lot, will make you a negative person?

Why do you prefer certain words over others?

Why looking at a dollar sign every day will make you money-minded?

Why will you donate more under certain stimulating circumstances?

Why you become like people whom you don’t even know?

, and many more questions, you will get your answers now! For that, keep reading.

Now let’s talk about priming in psychology by referring to an experiment.

I will refer to an experiment illustrated in Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow. “

An experiment was conducted in an office kitchen in a university where the members were to drop some money into the “honesty box” to have some tea or coffee. Suddenly, one day a banner was displayed right above the price suggestions for depositing into the box. It had the eyes of a man directly looking at you. Every week the banner was changed, this time with a poster of flowers. To have a good understanding, glance at the pic below.

Pic credit: http://ileader.club/priming-effect-youre-less-control-actions-think/

Source: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

You can vividly notice when contributions to the box were higher than usual. Even if the posters were unreal, they primed the brains to believe that someone is watching. The deposits dropped down remarkably when the eyes were replaced with flowers.

This explains why a dictator’s portrait in a dictator country can have a great impact on how people think. This is primarily due to the priming effect of being observed. It is not surprising to see how people lack independent thoughts in such countries.

Coming back to fill in the blanks, why were you tempted to answer a particular word? Why is it that SOAP pops up more readily in your mind than the word SHIP or SOUP?

No wonder if you had just traveled an icy plain, you would have come up with SLIP!

Your brain is like a computer that has a processor and a cache. Instead of storing frequently-required information in RAM, the processor stores it in the Cache. Since the Cache is incredibly faster, information access is faster and more fluid. You can pat me if you are a computer geek!

Let me pick up a more general example. Fishes are more convenient to catch when they are on the surface. However, fishes deep down the river are tough to catch, unless you bait them. Your brain prefers to gather information from the surface, rather than searching for it deep down within.

If you recently enjoyed watching The Titanic, it becomes more likely that you come up with the word SHIP. If you are hungry, your brain will ask for SOUP! If you have ducked in some clothes in your washing machine a little ago, you might come up with SOAP or WASH. Of course, you were daydreaming today. Did you go for the word WISH? I had some bread and butter right now. I can only think of BREAD rather than BEARD!

The Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman, also refers to an experiment done on some college students. These students were asked to rate the humor of Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoon images. The rating was done under two situations. In situation 1, a student had to hold a pencil between his teeth in a way that the pencil’s ends were pointing towards left and right. In situation 2, the same student had to hold a pencil with his lips in a way that the tip was aimed away from his mouth. In other words, he was required to hold the eraser part of the pencil between his lips.

The cartoon in situation 1 was rated higher than in situation 2. Yes, you have guessed it right! Situation 1 resulted in a smile, whereas 2 resulted in a frown. The students were not aware of whether they were smiling or frowning.

What it means that our gestures or physiology can greatly influence priming.

How can you use priming for being successful?

The enthralling part about priming is that it can be related to the law of attraction. Napolean Hill, in his book, Think and Grow Rich, mentions how we can get rich if we set our minds to getting rich. If you see a dollar sign every now and then, your mind will strive to make you richer, whether you know it or not. Also, your brain will unconsciously lead you to a path where you always wanted to go or be, if you think about the same, every now and then.

However, do keep in mind that priming alone will not bring accolades. Priming is the conditioning of your mind to achieve or complete a particular task or objective. An aspiring lawyer will always get absorbed in a new case study. That will further prime him to learn more and more.

If you see a lot of James Bond, you will be primarily motivated to walk or wear a suit like him or even talk like him! What priming does is, you start acting like him whether you know it or not and that too with decent accuracy.

Why are you unhappy?

Make sure the words that you read or the movies that you watch or the incidents that you think about are not unhappy. I get more emotional with my life for a day or two after watching an emotional scene. This is not surprising if you understood well about priming in psychological terms. If you complain a lot, your brain will be primed to live on negativity. Before you find flaws in someone, be aware of the concept of priming in psychology.

I have written a number of blogs on depression, happiness, anxiety, etc. I would suggest you check them out too!

Originally published at https://www.yashkedia.com on September 18, 2020.



Yash Kedia

Yash Kedia is just an ordinary person with a passion for helping people to enjoy lives and lift the depressed.