The Priming Effect on Your Decisions
On election day, you would probably agree that you are the only one who decides how you will vote.
But that is not exactly true. You have an invisible partner that is in the voting booth with you. It is trying to influence your vote and what’s more - you often follow its direction without even realizing it.
Your secret partner is your subconscious "lizard brain" and it is rather shocking how it can be manipulated to guide your choices.
Prime and Punishment
Our choices are susceptible to an invisible mind block known as “the priming effect.” Unrelated environmental cues “prime” us to act in certain ways. They influence our decision-making and make us vulnerable to manipulation. These cues can happen by chance but can also be planted purposefully with willful intent.
For example, let's look at voting. One study showed that when a proposed school tax was on the ballot, more people voted for the tax if their voting place was a school. But if you asked those who voted for the tax if that influenced them, they would tell you, “Of course not!” They may even be offended that you suggested such a thing.
We can be primed by words, symbols, and sensory inputs. A few examples:
- When choosing between a French and German wine, people more often choose the French wine if French music is playing (and the German wine with German music).
- People are more likely to view another person as friendly if the temperature in the room is warmer.
- When reading an article, people are more likely to believe the article if there is an image of a brain next to it.
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Out of Control
This is crazy stuff, and scary as well. This means that we are in much less control of our decisions and behavior than we think. If who we are is determined, at least in part, by the choices we make, then our very essence can be manipulated without us having a clue. Frightening indeed! Makes you wonder who is doing the manipulation and to what end.
For example, if a town wants schools to receive more tax money, they could increase the number of polling places that are in schools prior to the vote on taxes. Or they can just put pictures of classrooms and lockers on the walls – that has a similar priming effect.
If an entrepreneur wants to be perceived as believable, they could use an outline of a brain in their logo. Of course, only an unscrupulous scallywag would stoop that low.
There’s bad news and…
Because we do not have direct control over our subconscious, we cannot help ourselves from being primed, accidentally or otherwise. That is the bad news. Also, we don’t know when it is happening - also bad news.
BUT…we can purposefully prime ourselves in a direction we want to go, overcoming potential unrecognized priming effects. (see, there is good news!).
For example, if you want to improve your eating habits, fill your environment with healthy cues. Place notes where they can be seen that have words associated with the benefits of eating right, such as “more energy” “better brain” “longer life”. You don’t even have to consciously think about those things as long as you see them.
This can also work to overcome the priming influences of the negativity bias. Fill your environment with reminders of things that make you feel good - pictures of loved ones, motivational sayings, past success, etc.
Let your lizard brain do the rest!
Think well and be well.
- Steve Haffner
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