Behavioral priming, in which behavior is changed by introducing subconscious influences, is a well-established phenomenon, but a new study shows that the cause may be different than what was previously assumed, and that the experimenter's expectations are also crucial for the priming effect to be seen. The results are reported in the Jan. 18 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE.
The study, led by Stéphane Doyen of the University of Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, aimed to replicate a seminal behavioral priming study from 1996. In this original study, the authors tested whether subconsciously priming participants to think about age could make them walk more slowly. The participants thought they were volunteering for a word game, in which they had to figure out which word didn't belong, but the actual measure was how fast they left the lab.
The researchers found that when the words that didn't belong were related to being old, the participants walked more slowly after playing the game.
In the new study, however, the experimenters found that the priming effect was only seen when the experimenters' expectations of participant behavior were manipulated as well. The authors emphasize that these results are not simply the results of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but instead appear to reflect environmental cues, such as the experimenter's behavior, which act together with the initial priming from the word game to affect the participants' behavior.
Citation: Doyen S, Klein O, Pichon C-L, Cleeremans A (2012) Behavioral Priming: It's all in the Mind, but hose Mind? PLoS ONE 7(1): e29081. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029081
Financial Disclosure: This work was supported by the Wienner-Anspach Fondation, the National Fund for Scientific Research (F.N.R.S. - F. R.S.) (Belgium), and by an institutional grant from the Universite´ Libre de Bruxelles to Axel Cleeremans by Concerted Research Action 06/11-342 titled ''Culturally Modified Or- ganisms: What It Means to Be Human in the Age of Culture,'' financed by the Ministe`re de la Communaute´ Franc¸aise - Direction Ge´ne´ rale l'Enseignement non obligatoire et de la Recherche scientifique (Belgium). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interest Statement: I have read the journal's policy and have the following conflicts: Behavioral priming has always been a controversial topic in social cognition. This paper highlights a more nuanced view of this topic, especially about its non-conscious nature, that might not please those in favor of a strict perspective. This does not alter our adherence to all the PLoS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.
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