The term priming means preparation or paving the way. Exposure to one stimulus (prime) influences the interpretation and response to ensuing stimuli.
This means that the prime activates attitudes that are later connected with what we have experienced. Priming can thus influence our own behaviour. People who have negative priming about “ageing”, for example, move slower (1).
Company managers often consciously apply the concept of priming. Praise or reprimand – both affect the motivation and performance of employees.
It all depends on the attitude
You are lovely, smart, and intelligent or you are ugly, forgetful, and stupid! Just words? Yes, but words that have an impact. If the person changes their behaviour after hearing compliments or criticism, we call that positive or negative priming.
It refers to a mental attitude or sensitisation that influences our behaviour. Neurologists call this stimulus sequence. The first stimulus opens the door for specific images in our heads. The second stimulus is influenced by these images, and processed and interpreted differently in accordance with them. These mental processes are generally unconscious and last only a few moments.
By the way, not only words are capable of priming. Scents or sounds, any sensory stimulus can awake memories that have either positive or negative effects on our behaviour (2).
More performance – The wholesale study
This is a recent study based on the experiences of numerous managers: praise and compliments increase motivation and lead to higher performance. For the study, two equally large groups of older employees were formed at a wholesalers. Both groups were given the same task: to compare invoices and the content of packages. The subtle difference: beforehand, one group was primed with positive terms such as “experienced” and “wise” and the other was not. The primed employees worked more effectively and quickly. They completed their work in four minutes and thus faster than the control group who finished after seven minutes.
Rejuvenation – the monastery experiment
In 1981, an experiment became the topic of conversation that had been conducted at a monastery in New Hampshire, USA. The researchers had turned the monastery into a replica of life in the year 1959. The eight inhabitants, aged 70 and up, watched movies and listened to music from 1959 and were not able to look at themselves in the mirror. They were not treated like 70-year-olds and were asked to pretend they were their younger selves from 1959. After five days in this closed environment “from yesteryear”, tests showed improved physical and mental fitness among all participants. The inhabitants saw themselves as 50- to 60-year-olds and their performance increased accordingly.
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Kirchner, C., Völker, I. & Bock, O.L. (2015). Priming with age stereotypes influences the performance of elderly workers. Scientific Research Publishing, 6, 133-137.
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