Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Psychological hot-wiring, subliminal seduction

Or, just priming. Whatever you call it, you will find quite a few examples (some of them spooky) of interesting behaviours that are evoked using cues that do not register consciously at all. Here's a famous one that got quite a bit of play last year:

... In one 2006 study, for instance, researchers had Northwestern University undergraduates recall an unethical deed from their past, like betraying a friend, or a virtuous one, like returning lost property. Afterward, the students had their choice of a gift, an antiseptic wipe or a pencil; and those who had recalled bad behavior were twice as likely as the others to take the wipe. They had been primed to psychologically “cleanse” their consciences.

Once their hands were wiped, the students became less likely to agree to volunteer their time to help with a graduate school project. Their hands were clean: the unconscious goal had been satisfied and now was being suppressed, the findings suggest.