Priming

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Chapter 3 endnote 7, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

The words [of the basic emotion method] not only limit the available choices but also prompt the subjects to simulate facial configurations for the corresponding emotion concepts, preparing them to see certain emotions and not others. This process is called priming.

Fifty years of psychological research attests to the powerful effects of priming, but it's simple enough to experience it yourself. If someone says to you, “Try not to think of a white bear,” of course the first thing that comes to mind is a white bear. The social psychologist Dan Wegner showed that merely hearing the phrase “white bear” primes you to simulate examples of white bears from your past.[1]

In the words of author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”[2]


Notes on the Notes

  1. Wegner, Daniel. 1989. White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession, and the Psychology of Mental Control. New York: Viking.
  2. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. (1863) 1997. "An Essay Concerning the Bourgeois," in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. p. 49.