How We’re Influenced (Consciously or Not…)

Originally posted on March 23, 2015. Article 12 from the Studio Quick Facts Series

The brain is influenced by many different stimuli. Some, we are aware of. Much of it we are not. This principal is known as impression formation and falls under the concept of priming.

Students at NYU were given five words and were asked to unscramble those words to form a sentence. An example would be “he Florida today lives in” would turn into “he lives in Florida”.

The students were broken into groups. One group had words associated with the elderly and another had words associated with youth.

Once the students were done assembling the sentences, they were then asked to walk down a hallway to the next part of the experiment. Researchers observed the duration for each participant to walk down the hall.

Students who were exposed to words associated with the elderly took much longer to traverse the hallway. When asked, participants in the elderly group did not think the words had any impact on them.

Most people believe that stimuli, words included, can influence other people’s behavior. Yet, they rarely believe it influences their own. Many resist the notion of being influenced because it is not at the conscious level. Aware of it or not… everyone is influenced.


Works Cited
Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of personality and social psychology, 71(2), 230.

Erb, H. P., Bioy, A., & Hilton, D. J. (2002). Choice preferences without inferences: Subconscious priming of risk attitudes. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 15(3), 251–262.

Weinschenk, S. (2011). 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People (Voices That Matter). New Riders.

Weinschenk, S. (2009). Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? New Riders.

Welsh, David, and Lisa Ordonez. “Conscience without cognition: The effects of subconscious priming on ethical behavior.” Academy of Management Journal (2013): amj-2011.