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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Subconscious Priming of Performance


Priming is a concept that entails embedding a concept into the human subconscious in an effort to alter behavior. Dr. Minas, Dr. Bhagwatwar, and Dr. Dennis from the University of Indiana have studied priming on a group to improve business communication and creativity on a group level (2013). They used computer simulated games to provide neural priming and then test creativity and ideation thereafter and found that there was a high correlation between the two. 

Organizations often seek to create higher levels of creativity and innovation to produce new products and services for market. Some are searching methods for using online communication methods in order to develop a stronger level of communication performance. This can help in everything from workplace productivity to effective marketing methods. If online communication can influence behavior the overall financial and social benefits are large. 

Our subconscious cognition influences our online behavior.  The use of priming taps into our working memory through beliefs, values, and attitudes that impact subsequent behaviors.  It can be primed through words, pictures, symbols, and a number of other ways. The researchers used a simulation game to create primed behavior. 

The use of supraliminal priming allows the participants to know the stimulus but not know its overall intention. Postmes et al. (2001), found that priming online in pro-social stimulus produced positive pro-social behaviors. An anonymous group’s behavior changed to develop higher levels of performance in social ways.

The key to priming is to activate mental representations (i.e. images). The use of subliminal priming focuses on imperceptible bursts of information that is then masked.  Supraliminal priming is an obvious stimulus that activates mental representations but the intent is hidden from the participants conscious. The two can be used together or separate to influence follow-up thinking. Participants shouldn’t be aware that they are being primed in order for it to be effective. 

Priming can impact access to categories of concepts through a series of words. The author uses the word “popcorn” to show how categories of eating, corn, family, etc… can be primed. The primed words can be used in an individual or within a social setting. When groups are primed for performance or creativity they can perform better due to previous mental representations that were activated. 

The researchers used 175 sophomores working in groups of five participants creating thirty-five groups. The participants worked on generating ideas for increasing tourism as well as reducing pollution. They were instructed to generate as many ideas as possible and build off of the ideas of other groups. They used group chat rooms to foster their discussions. Participants were performance primed or neutral primed by sequentially picking words that created newspaper headlines. 

The researchers found that those who were primed for performance achieved significantly higher new ideas and performance than those whose primes were neutral. The priming impacted an individual’s semantic networks and they in turn influenced other peoples. The impact is additive as each person generates ideas and builds off of others ideas. 

The significance is profound as it could impact both marketing and group performance. By using proper primes within a sequence it is possible to ensure that the priming effects do not wear off and that certain behaviors are more likely to be exhibited based upon their semantic category mapping (i.e. mind mapping). We are consistently and randomly primed in our environment. How, we act and react to others primes our next thoughts and behaviors. People are not able to often connect the primes to accurately understand their environment. If a group of people are negatively priming others they can expect lower performance while if they are positively priming others they can expect higher performance. This is done without intention but is a natural part of living socially and helps us create culture. This is why our social environment is extremely important to our overall success. Organizations can seek to create positive priming environments that foster higher levels of creativity, performance, and development. 

Dennis, A., Minas, R. & Bhagwatwar, A. (2013) Sparking creativity: improving electronic brainstorming with individual cognitive priming. Journal of Management Information Systems, 29 (4). 

 Postmes, T. et. al. (2001). Social influence in computer mediated communication: The effects of anonymity on group behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27 (10)

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