Long-Term Effects of Subliminal Priming on Academic Performance

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Research Paper No. 1946
Long-term Effects of Subliminal Priming on Academic Performance Brian S. Lowery Naomi I. Eisenberger Curtis D. Hardin Stacey Sinclair September 2006


Long-term subliminal priming


Running Head: Long-term subliminal priming

Long-term Effects of Subliminal Priming on Academic Performance

Brian S. Lowery Stanford University

Naomi I. Eisenberger University of California, Los Angeles

Curtis D. Hardin Brooklyn College

Stacey Sinclair University of Virginia

Forthcoming in Basic and Applied Social Psychology

Long-term subliminal priming Abstract This research examines the temporal range of subliminal priming effects on complex behavior. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were subliminally primed with words either related or unrelated to intelligence before completing a practice exam, administered 1 to 4 days before an actual course midterm. Results revealed that the intelligence primes increased performance on the midterm compared to neutral primes. Experiment 1 demonstrated that being told that the priming task was designed to help exam performance moderated the effect of the intelligence primes. In Experiment 2, practice test performance mediated the effect of the primes on midterm performance. These experiments demonstrated that subliminal priming may have long-term effects on real-world behavior, and demonstrates one means by which long-term priming effects may occur.


Long-term subliminal priming Long-Term Effects of Subliminal Priming on Academic Performance The lay public has long been fascinated by the possibility that information presented below the threshold of consciousness (i.e., subliminally) can affect thoughts and behaviors. For example, concerns about the use of subliminal information in


advertising grew so great that the Federal Communications Committee decided to address it, and concluded that such tactics were “contrary to the public interest (FCC, 1974).” Furthermore, companies continue to market and presumably profit from audio- and videotapes purported to employ subliminal messages aimed at fixing ailments from low self-esteem to substance abuse. Although marketers’ claims regarding products that supposedly employ subliminal priming have not fared well in empirical tests, as many such claims have been debunked (Greenwald, Spangenberg, Pratkanis, & Eskenazi, 1991; Pratkanis & Greenwald, 1988), there is quite a bit of evidence that subliminal priming can affect behavior. These effects have been observed on a variety of behaviors, including social cooperation, competitiveness, memory, hostility, and non-verbal demeanor (reviewed in Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Bargh & Ferguson, 2000; Dijksterhuis, Bargh, & Miedema, 2000; Wheeler & Petty, 2001). For example, (a) older adults perform better on memory tests after subliminal exposure to words related to wisdom rather than senility (Levy, 1996), (b) people act more interpersonally hostile after subliminal exposure to Black faces than White faces (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996), and (c) new acquaintances get along better during a cooperative task after subliminal exposure to an issue they assume they agree about rather than disagree about (Conley & Hardin, 2002).

Long-term subliminal priming Though there is ample empirical evidence that subliminal primes can affect behavior, questions persist about how long such priming effects might last as well as the means by which long-term priming effects might occur. Although subliminal priming effects on complex behaviors are impressive, most outcomes occur within a few minutes of the priming episode. Not surprisingly, many researchers believe that the behavioral effects of subliminal priming are likely to diminish quickly over time, especially in response to naturally occurring interference (Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 1998; Neuberg, 1988). Despite doubts regarding the possibility of long-term behavioral effects of subliminal...
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