The priming effect – how you can effectively influence users

In psychology, the priming effect refers to the preparation of a stimulus-response scheme. Here, a preceding stimulus influences a person’s thinking and behavior in a subsequent reaction. Priming can also be translated as “preparation.” The observed priming effect is based on the fact that people are subconsciously influenced/manipulated by preceding stimuli.

How exactly does the priming effect work?

The priming effect takes place in our brain. Simply put, the brain lays down traces during priming, thereby preparing the subconscious for upcoming events. A stimulus activates memory contents in the brain. These trigger specific associations based on previous experiences and events. The brain searches for associative content that matches the relevant word. This process occurs in the subconscious and influences a person’s behavior, memory, and emotions. The concept of priming has various manifestations. The effect of priming is not limited to the retrieval of words and thoughts but can also affect exhibited behavior.

The Florida Effect:

The Florida Effect dates back to an experiment by social psychologist John Bargh in 1996. Bargh conducted a study in which his subjects first formed sentences from words associated with age, such as “gray,” “wrinkle,” “forgetful,” “bald,” “Florida,” etc.
Subsequently, the participants had to walk through a corridor to another room. It was observed that the participants primed with “age” walked significantly slower than those who had formed sentences with neutral words. Bargh attributed this slower walking to the priming effect.
In 2006, a study at the University of Cologne showed that the Florida Effect also works in the opposite direction. Participants were encouraged to move in a manner characteristic of older people, deliberately slow. It turned out that these participants, compared to the control group, found it significantly easier to remember age-stereotypical words they had encountered during the experiment.

Terror Management Theory

The Terror Management Theory was developed by social psychologists S. Solomon, J. Greenberg, and T. Pyszczynski in the late 1980s. The research deals with the theme of “fear of death” and addresses the typical response patterns (management) that people with death anxiety and awareness of their own mortality (terror) develop.
When a person’s awareness of their own death is made more accessible (Mortality Salience; MS), there is a need to defend one’s cultural worldview.
In a study by Psyzcynski et al. (2006), it was shown that American students, after being primed with their own mortality, were more likely to support a military preemptive strike against Iran with more civilian casualties than the control group without such manipulation. In the same study, Iranian students were also asked about their attitude towards suicide bombings. Participants primed with their own mortality reported a more positive attitude towards such behavior and an increased willingness to participate in such an attack themselves.

Priming Effect in Marketing

Now the question arises: How can we make use of the priming effect in marketing?
We leverage the psychological tendencies of users and pave the way for the advertising message. The expectations of the users are manipulated so that they react positively to an advertising message. In the design of a commercial website, the content of the website can serve as triggers to ultimately evoke positive reactions from users. These reactions are measurable by factors such as click and conversion rates, dwell time, and click path.
However, the web consists not only of consumers but also of prosumers. Therefore, priming effects can also be used to prepare the way for the product to reach the user through cooperation with opinion leaders (so-called “influencers”). Reviews, ratings, and recommendations can be used as priming effects. This is also true in the context of image and branding campaigns. A positive attitude towards a person ensures that if this person recommends something specific to us, we also feel a positive attitude towards this product.

Conclusion:

By applying priming effects, it is possible to lead users to certain behaviors. By manipulating the subconscious, we favor the behaviors we desire. This strategy is often successfully applied in the field of marketing.

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