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Priming In Psychology – Types And Examples

If you were playing a free association word game, and someone said ‘blue,’ it would be more likely that you would say ‘sky’ rather than ‘boat’ or ‘butterfly.’

This happens because the sky and blue are more related to memory than the boat or butterfly. This tendency is called priming.

Priming is defined as a technique in which the introduction or exposure to one stimulus could impact the response to the next or subsequent stimulus. Hence, the sky is remembered or ‘primed’ after hearing the word blue.

Priming affects the way an individual sees the world and influences his or her behavior in a subtle manner.

How Does Priming Work?

It is widely believed that parts or units of information are stored in our long-term memory. These units can be activated in a variety of ways. These units can also be deactivated in certain ways.

Priming is one way to activate these units and lead to easier access to memory. When a person is presented with one unit or part of the information, related or associated information can also become active, leading to faster retrieval from memory.

For example, for some people, hearing a ringing bell can activate memories from school days.

Types Of Priming

1. Positive Priming:

This type of priming occurs when processing speed increases and memory retrieval becomes faster. There are some examples of priming that come under positive priming.

  • Repetition Priming: In this priming, the stimulus word and response word are repeatedly paired together. So, when the stimulus word is presented, people are more likely to respond in a certain manner.
  • Associative Priming: In this priming, two stimuli words are used that are often associated or linked to each other, in a general context. So, when one word is presented, people respond with another, associated word more quickly. For example, bread and butter, bed and pillow, lock and key, etc.
  • Conceptual Priming: In this priming, two words are involved that are conceptually associated with each other. Presentation of one stimulus word would trigger a response that is conceptually closer to the stimuli word. For example, chairs-wood-table-furniture.
  • Semantic Priming: In this priming, two words are involved that are logically or meaningfully associated to each other. For example, clouds and sky.
  • Perceptual Priming: In this priming, two words are involved that are similarly formed. For example, rhyming words such as ring and sing or house and mouse.

2. Negative Priming:

This type of priming occurs when processing speed decreases and memory retrieval becomes slower.

The most common example of this priming is in experiments wherein the participant is first asked to ignore an observable characteristic of an object (color or shape) and then asked to do a task that requires focusing on the previously mentioned characteristic (color or shape) in the next object. This would slow down the speed of the person, because of negative priming.

Tipper (1985) conducted an experiment on Negative priming in which he observed that the participants were slower in recalling the name of the probe object that they ignored before.

In each trial, the participants were shown a yellow figure as the main stimulus along with an overlapping green and red stimulus. After that, they were shown a probe stimulus of a green and red object. In this, they were required to say the name of the red object while ignoring the green one.

It was observed that the participants were slower in naming the green object which they ignored earlier.

3. Masked Priming:

In Masked Priming, the participants are shown a prime stimulus for a short period before the target word.

For example, it has been observed that people are quicker to respond to bread to butter than to a doctor. The participants might not be conscious of the prime, but it still affects their response. When the words are associated it is easier to respond rather for unrelated words.

Applications Of Priming

  • Priming is a helpful aid in studying. Sometimes, it can be helpful to know your syllabus and the expectations of teachers before starting to learn. Here, priming the students by providing them with a syllabus or curriculum can be helpful for further learning lessons. Textbooks or other materials can also be provided prior to starting a lesson in class.
    A teacher or educator can also give context or introduction of the topic she or he is going to cover, before teaching that topic to students. That introduction or context can prime them for further learning.
  • It is an important technique in advertising and marketing as well. Some things are associated together to sell them.
    For example, a popular actor can be roped in for a soft drink advertisement, so that consumers make the association between the two things and are motivated to buy the product due to this association.
    Other than this, certain colors or props are also used in advertisements to associate products with those things. For instance, blue is often used with cooling products (hydrating drinks, air fresheners, etc).
  • It is used in the psychiatric field for patients with issues in memory. Specifically, patients with amnesia have trouble remembering daily things. But research has found that they perform well (just like people without amnesia) on perceptual priming tasks.
    Hence, priming can be used in their daily schedule to help them remember small parts of their day and make their regular days a little easier.
  • It can influence behavior as well. Priming can be used to impact behavior in various contexts.
    For example, bakery shops induce the smell of bread in order to lure people into buying their products. The smell of bread primes the mind to think of other baked goods, leading to shopping for these products.
  • Priming can also help in increasing pro-social behavior. An interpretive schema is activated when behavior is observed, making the schema easier to reach. When action plans are included in the schema, they also become more available. Action plans are the details that define when and how to elicit a particular behavior.
  • When we enter a showroom, it typically smells pleasant. This is because people’s reactions to smells involve two processes, one affective ( Affective priming – The priming linked with our feelings and emotions) and another associative (Semantic priming), which influence how consumers categorize, remember, and choose certain scents.
    We discovered that when people associate a pleasant odor with a brand, they are better able to recall odor-congruent brand logos and classify odor-congruent visual items. Instead, unpleasant smells only help in classifying odor-congruent visual things when they are made salient.

Research Evidence

Study By: John Bargh

Aim: To investigate the impact of priming on students’ behavior


  • Students from NY University were divided into 3 groups. All groups were given specific 35-word sentences to unscramble.
  • The first group was given sentences that had more aggressive words. The second group was given sentences with more polite words. The third group was given sentences with neutral words.
  • After they unscrambled the sentences, they were asked to go for the second task. The researcher deliberately made the students wait for the task to check how much time they wait. Their patience was getting tested post-priming.


  • It was found that the group with aggressive words waited for 5.4 minutes while the group with polite words waited for 9.3 minutes. The group with neutral words waited for 8.7 minutes.
  • 80% of participants in the polite group waited and only 35% participants of the rude group waited.


Conceptual priming was observed here. The group that was given positive words after unscrambling, positive emotions were generated rather than negative or frustrated emotions. whereas, in the group that was given aggressive words, the same kind of emotions were generated after unscrambling.

When the group with aggressive words were made to wait after priming, they elicited the emotions related to the prime and their emotions were the target.

The positive group had more patience in them while waiting due to the prime being calm and non-triggering.

The neutral group was able to wait longer than the aggressive group because their emotions were not being directly targeted.

The most observable difference was between the aggressive and the positive word group. The words had a conceptual association with the emotions, thus triggering the negative and aggressive emotions. The majority of the first group waited while a majority of the second group left due to conceptual priming.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Boo Ali November 18, 2023, 10:57 am

    I read this article and increased my knowledge.

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