What Is Priming?

Priming is a nonconscious form of human memory concerned with perceptual identification of words and objects. It refers to activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. For example, a person who sees the word yellow will be slightly faster to recognize the word banana. This happens because the concepts of yellow and banana are closely associated in memory. Additionally, priming can refer to a technique in psychology that is used to train a person's memory in both positive and negative ways.

Priming In Action

Seeing certain words or images can subtly influence our thinking, at least to an extent. Some psychologists have argued that priming can have surprising effects on our behavior: that seeing an image of money can affect our political views, for instance, or that reminding individuals of stereotypes applied to their social group can harm their performance on a test. Attempts to test such effects suggest that at least some of them are not reliable. But priming, in a more general sense, still matters, such as when people use contextual cues during a conversation to interpret the meaning of ambiguous language.


Cognition, Memory

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