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  • Amy Shteyman

Semantic Priming: Your Brain is Vulnerable!

Updated: Jan 5, 2020

Imagine a black apple with a large bite taken out of it. Does this image remind you of anything else? I don't know about you, but most people would immediately think of the world-famous Apple logo. You know, that small icon that's found on iPads, iPhones, and personal computers of the Apple brand, and kinda looks like this:

Nowadays, most people would not think about an actual edible apple that someone took a bite out of. Why? Well, this is because of priming. When we sense certain things in our environment, they can activate associated concepts in our memory. These concepts can stay activated for a period of time and influence our emotions and behavior... and we often don't even notice. In this case, I told you think about a black apple, but you probably unknowingly thought of the Apple logo instead.

In the past, scientists have studied the length of time between a person's first exposure to a stimulus in his or her environment and when priming actually occurs in the brain; however, how long does priming last in the brain after exposure? Five minutes? Ten?

I was curious to find out.

For my study, I used semantic priming.

This particular type of priming involves priming people with words. For instance, go find a friend and ask him or her, "Who works in a hospital?" Your friend would probably say, "Doctor." Now, ask your friend to fill in the missing letter to complete the word, "__URSE." Although words such as "curse" and "purse" are eligible candidates, your friend would most likely think of the word "nurse" because nurses are associated with doctors!

Semantic priming can be uncovered everywhere because of its powerful effects on the unconscious mind. Literature, advertisements— you name it. Additionally, semantic priming is an easy way to test priming because subjects can simply read a short passage and answer questions to determine the extent of the effects of priming on their brains.

My study looked at whether priming lasts for ten minutes after an initial exposure to a stimulus, 24 hours after an initial stimulus, or neither. Subjects were given a reading either about a house or a mouse and then asked to fill in the missing letter to complete the word, "__OUSE." This word test was given to the subjects either ten minutes after an initial stimulus or 24 hours after an initial stimulus.

What do you think happened?

Well, the results were shocking. After analyzing my data, I found that priming lasts for at least 10 minutes but not after 24 hours. But what does this mean?

The implications of this data are far-reaching. This means that successful marketingbrands such as Nike can influence people for almost ten minutes simply by flashing their checkmark logo. People are constantly exposed to this message subconsciously, so they may be more willing to go buy Nike apparel. Priming may also be used in propaganda because when people are exposed to certain messages, the memories will stay activated for at least ten minutes. That's a long time.

Overall, there are many ways in which priming can be used. Ten minutes is a long period of time for priming to occur in humans, and the ways in which priming can influence us are scary!


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