The priming effect definition

Priming in psychology is a prevalent and effective technique. The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines priming as a phenomenon in cognitive psychology. It’s an effect in which recent experience of a stimulus facilitates or inhibits later processing of the same or a similar stimulus.

It’s a type of cognitive bias that makes the decision-making process easier and quicker. Priming is the process by which information in memory is activated just before a new stimulus or activity.

This occurs unconsciously, yet it has a significant influence on many parts of our daily life. If you want to learn more about social influence read our article.

Types of priming

Priming can be visual, associative, repetitive, positive, negative, emotive, semantic, or intellectual. However, priming research has yet to reach a consensus on the duration of its effects or when they begin to manifest.

Positive and negative priming

Positive and negative priming describes how priming affects processing speed. Positive priming allows for faster processing and improved memory recall, while negative priming impairs it.

Semantical priming

Words that are logically or linguistically linked are known as semantically primed. The preceding example of responding to the word “banana” more quickly after being primed with the phrase “yellow” illustrates semantic priming.

yellow banana

Associative priming

This is a type of priming in which two stimuli that are associated with one another are used. For example, the words “cat” and “mouse,” frequently linked in memory, might prime a subject to respond more quickly when the second word appears.

Repetition priming

This type of priming happens when a stimulus and response are repeatedly connected. As a result, each time the trigger appears, people are more inclined to react in a certain way.

Perceptual priming

Perceptual priming refers to stimuli with similar shapes. For example, because the words “boat” and “goat” are perceptually identical, the word “boat” will elicit a quicker response when preceded by the word “goat.”

Conceptual priming

A stimulus and response that are conceptually linked are referred to as conceptual priming. For example, because they fall into the same cognitive category, words such as “seat” and “chair” are likely to exhibit priming effects.

Masked priming

This is a method of priming in which a portion of the initial stimulus is hidden, such as with hash marks. Then, even though the whole thing isn’t visible, it still elicits a response.

Why does the priming effect occur?

Our long-term memory is full of information units, also known as schemas. These schemas are stored in our long-term memory and can be triggered by sights, odors, and sounds. Our memories become simpler to access when these schemas are activated.

Primes induce the activation of a particular schema in tandem, which causes linked or related units of information to be activated simultaneously. Once related schemas are activated and become more accessible, it becomes easier to retrieve related knowledge more quickly, allowing us to react faster when required.

The schemas linked to rainstorms and slick roads may be connected to our memories, for example. As a result, when we drive during the rain and recall slippery roads, we are inclined to slow down and take precautions.


Why is the priming effect important?

An awareness of priming can help us utilize its beneficial properties while reducing the negative consequences of this cognitive bias. However, as previously said, priming may affect others if we allow it to influence our actions.

Many people are eager to help their buddies avoid being thought of as unpleasant people, but this is sometimes beyond our control if we have been trained to believe in a specific manner. Instead, we can remain conscious of how past events influence our present decision-making by understanding the priming effect.

We can use priming to our advantage in light of its potentially beneficial consequences when considering how to take advantage of this cognitive bias. For example, priming may enhance numerous mental abilities, including reading comprehension, listening, and information processing speed.

Even physical skills such as our walking speed can be dramatically affected by priming.

How to avoid the priming effect?

We can all be more aware of how cognitive bias affects our lives to minimize its most harmful effects, but doing so may be difficult because we unconsciously process information and form habits.

Furthermore, we may utilize existing knowledge to develop strategies for priming our brains to produce good behaviors and characteristics. Researchers have even looked into how the priming effect might affect our emotions, actions, and overall thought processes.

Where to use the priming effect?

Some priming techniques are helpful in many fields. For example, people exposed to images of money develop individualistic attitudes and want to be independent of others. The priming effect is quite evident in that the recall of funds causes individuals to make different choices than they otherwise would.

In most forms of marketing, the process is the same: advertising must be triggered by a customer’s action (or lack thereof). Thus, repetition and association are essential elements in how marketers create their advertisements. A few well-chosen associations, appropriate colors, and some repetition will persuade almost anybody.

That’s why it’s utilized in print, audio, and video media. You may even witness priming in politics as a candidate tries to win your vote.


This article discussed the instances when the priming effect occurs and how it impacts our thoughts, actions, and emotions. Priming affects implicit memory that previous associations with events activate.

The priming effect can be used to our advantage in light of its potentially beneficial consequences like improving cognitive skills like reading comprehension and listening.

Lastly, there are ways to prevent or reduce the harmful effects of this bias on our lives, such as developing awareness about how it affects us and developing strategies for priming ourselves to produce good behaviour.

Make sure to check out our other articles on social psychology, Door in the Face Technique and Availability Effect.

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