One of the great enjoyments from blogging is you get to correspond with really insightful people.
That's Shanna. She wants to kick off a discussion on Priming, and I'm really grateful she contributed for our thinking benefit. Enjoy -
I'm reading Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. At one point he talks about priming.
He cites a couple of studies. In the first, undergrads are given a few word jumbles and asked to create sentences with them. Included in the exercise are lists like tired, old, Florida, achy, etc. The researchers then measured the speed of the undergrads as they were leaving the office going back down the hall out of the office. Everyone moved more slowly after they were exposed to triggers about old age.
In another study, people were primed with terms implying either rudeness or politeness. And then the researchers sent them into another office to hand in their form to a secretary who was chatting with a confederate. They wanted to see how being primed to rudeness or politeness would effect how long they would wait to interrupt.
The ones primed to be rude interupted after about five minutes. But the ones primed to be polite didn't interrupt at ALL.
Clearly, there's something to be said for this priming business. Maybe motivational posters aren't as stupid as they look. And maybe putting pictures of fit people on your fridge instead of fat ones would create better results.
But to my mind, there's a HUGE amount room to experiment and optimize here.
To me, this is like the subliminal messages craze-- -- except that it might actually work. And it is pretty close to subliminal. In one study, the put people in a room where there were two pieces of rope hanging from the ceiling, too far apart to be reached by one person. The puzzle was to tie the ends of the rope together. Lots of people were stumped by this. The researcher let them stew for five minutes, then he reached out and idly began to play with the blind cord, swinging it to and fro like a pendulum. Then, suddenly, a light bulb seemed to go on in people's minds. The got one rope swinging, until it could be reached while holding the other cord. The catch? When questioned how they had come to that epiphany, no-one knew why they had suddenly had that idea. They had not consciously noticed the researcher fiddling at all.
All this is fascinating. I'm a brain injury survivor, so I'm pretty familiar with the workings of my brain. But this is one frontier I've never explored.
So I asked Sebastian if I could pitch this concept out to you. This is definitely one occasion where more brains is better. How might you use priming in your everyday life? How would you use it to obtain stretch goals? Could it work even if you know you're doing it (since the placebo effect has been shown to work even when you know it's placebo, I'm pretty confident that this could be done.)
I can't wait to see what you guys come up with.
You can find Shanna at ShannaMann.com - and let's hear your thoughts on priming in the comments. How could we use to get higher levels of performance, meet our goals, and live better lives?
Oh,Yeah ~ Internet friends count!!
We probably have far more, deeper conversations with folx via computer these days, than with anybody except the few people we see "every day" - house-mates, work-mates, and kids.
And because their words are in print, and re-readable (more or less) rather than 'in the air' and 'through the ears only once', I think they may be even more (consciously or not) influential than IRL friends.
(Witness you and me and Erin, ferinstance, commenting all over the place! ;) )
You hit on a good point! I have observed that marketers intentionally make people feel dissatisfied with some aspect of their self or life in order to create a need in the consumer for the product being offered. Imagine how much happier and more positive we could all be if ads just came on to encourage people instead of telling them what's wrong with them. lol.
Yes, Ed Yong is worth a follow. Not only are his own pieces very good, but he curates a weekly blog round-up that is the best I've ever seen and largely satisfies my craving for learning things that have no bearing on my life.
Funny you should ask about cities. I just saw a link about it, but it was too heavy going to hold my interest (that, and I don't live in a city and never have) Here you go; Wired Science http://ow.ly/8FHrH
I was more thinking about individuals; you know the old saw "You're the average of the five people you associate with the most." Do internet friends count?
Good point, thank you. Would you recommend following him?
That is certainly something worth quantitative research. Qualitative statements abound (comments about the real benefit of a formal higher education being the chance to talk to other people as or more intelligent than yourself, http://paulgraham.com/cities.html, my personal observations of experimenting with joining different social groups), but I have yet to see good data. Do you know of any research?
I've been reading that journalist for some time, and I've known him for his scrupulously even-handed approach. It was me giving the impression of hyberbole. In fact, Yong's quote reads: "“There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of priming studies conducted, many of which use designs that make experimenter bias essentially impossibl. It would be a huge mistake to draw the implication here that [these] studies refute this body of work in any way.”"
I think it's not unlikely that researcher expectation accounted for some of the effect; humans can be incredibly sensitive to each other (that's a sentence I never thought I'd write). The point is also made that participants *were* primed, just by the researchers, not the words.
So maybe the priming we should track is the effect people around us have on our state of mind.
I suspect the journalists were being more than a bit hyperbolic there.
A computer given implicit association test(implicit.harvard.edu to pick one) will report that people have specific biases they refuse to admit they have, and the change observed seems a lot like priming. People do better on tests when they think of themselves as someone smart first(Sadly I have lost this study, it was, to the best of my recollection, comparing test results of people who wrote about themselves as either professors or cheerleaders). Advertisements also show distinct changes in response rates based on things that from a pure rationality perspective shouldn't cause changes(Change the color of a button on a web page to improve the likelihood of people clicking, put an attractive woman on your add, etc).
I think it is more plausible that there are limited physical reactions to verbal priming. A limited number of words in a low stress condition changing how people walk by a noticeable amount?
(Just imagine I typed out all the statistics)
To measure a change large enough to be statistically significant, there would have had to be a roughly 10% difference between the two groups, and they measured a 3% change. I am less than entirely convinced, though it is an interesting point and I am loath to dismiss failure to replicate.
All in all, it is evidence against priming, but not enough to over rule many years of experiments, I think.
Interestingly, I just found a post and a new study that could potentially refute the *entire body of work* on priming. http://ow.ly/8CMy1
However, the placebo effect still holds true -- I've been finding priming is very effective for me -- even when I don't want it to be.
Matthew, thank you for single-handedly resurrecting my opinion of vision boards. I've always disdained them, not being of an arts-and-crafts mindset myself.
These are all great suggestions. Well done.
I've been thinking about this since I first read it. The best idea that I've come up with is that some people already use this principle, just with a different name.
- When you read advice that says to create a "dream board" of some sort and then put it somewhere that you see it every day- ie: cut pictures out of magazines that represent your goal (like a vacation or new home or whatever).
- By putting your personal goal somewhere that you will see it as you wake up and go to bed - writing your goal on a notecard and posting it so you see it as you brush your teeth.
These both seem like forms of priming to me, and could be used much more effectively. Whether you are aiming for a goal or an emotional state, you could certainly get a bit more focused.
- If you're trying to have a more positive attitude - put a picture of someone (yourself?) really laughing as your computer background, only play music that makes you feel good, listen to comedy routines while commuting or any time you have to wait somewhere, and only watch tv shows/movies that are upbeat.
- Have a weight loss goal? Maybe pictures of less-full plates of food will help prime you to not over-eat and motivational quotes will help to keep you inspired.
- Trying to meet a business goal? Figure out what the specific outcome of completion is for you and use images that show that, quotes from business people that you admire, and ideas that inspire you.
You Wanna be a Hero? Grow a Set and Systemize
by Shanna Mann
“We don't like checklists. They can be painstaking. They're not much fun. But I don't think the issue here is mere laziness. There's something deeper, more visceral going on, when people walk away not only from savign lives, but making money. It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us – those we aspire to be-- handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not follow checklists.
“Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.”
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
When I was younger, I loved playing on swings. My best friend Ryan and I would spend all of recess on the swings, making up new tricks and seeing who could jump further. Eventually it got to the point where ankles were being sprained and we had both perfected the backflip off the swing.
Now, many years later, I still love swinging despite encountering fewer opportunities to do it. One of the distinctive features at my new building is a large metal terrace hanging over the rooftop patio. Since moving in I've wanted to build a swing on it so that I could swing over the edge of the building.
I'm not sure why, but yesterday inspiration struck and I decided that it would be that day I built my swing. Evan and Jonah were with me. Evan was upset by the idea, worried that I might die. Jonah was also eager to swing, and helped me assure Evan that I did stuff like this all the time, and that I wouldn't die. She wasn't wholly convinced.