Another major advance in our understanding of memory was the discovery that priming is not restricted to concepts and words. You cannot know this from conscious experience, of course, but you must accept the alien idea that your actions and your emotions can be primed by events of which you are not even aware.
Kahneman then describes an experiment conducted by John Bargh and collaborators, in which the participants were asked to do a brief exercise involving a seemingly random collection of words. The words, however, weren’t random.
For one group of students, the scrambled sentences contained words associated with the elderly, such as Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle. When they had completed the task, the young participants were sent out to do another experiment in an office down the hall. That short walk was what the experiment was about. …As Bargh had predicted, the young people who had fashioned a sentence from words with an elderly theme walked down the hallway significantly more slowly than the others.
Priming, in short, is a pretty powerful effect that happens to you regardless of your conscious approval. But it definitely happens, as study after study has shown. In another study described by Kahneman, participants were asked to walk around for 5 minutes at a slow pace; afterward they were measured to be much quicker to recognize words related to old age.
The studies show that physical priming can effect mental or verbal response, and mental or verbal priming can effect a physical response. People who smile while viewing comics tend to rate the comics as funnier than those who frown.
“We now know,” says Kahneman, “that the effects of priming can reach into every corner of our lives.”
What could you prime yourself for?