Mental priming and the effect on judgment and thought

Cognitive psychologists generally believe that ideas, somehow and by some means not yet fathomed, surface or are created from a neural network of associative memories. This view is according to Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2011) at Chapter 4. Our first reaction to something, what he calls the fast, System 1 part of our minds, almost instantaneously links a perception to associated memories and other neural material. On that basis, “creativity is associative memory that works exceptionally well” (at 67).

Without us even realizing it, however, we can be influenced toward or against network links: in cognitive terminology, we can be primed.

If a conference room has a statue of Rodin’s Thinker next to a quote from Goethe about the potential of reasoned decisions and a reproduction of Vermeer’s The Procuress, those in the conference room will be subconsciously primed to deliberate more effectively. Even our physical actions can be primed (the ideomotor effect) such as when we hear or read words about old age and then walk more slowly – without the slightest recognition of the priming instigator.

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