On the Florida Experiment

This week’s book learning is from ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman.

In an experiment that went on to become a classic, Psychologist John Barge asked students of NYU (Aged 18-23 years) to assemble four word sentences from a sentence of 5 words. Eg: Listens He Music Liked To.

For one group, the sentences involved words like Florida, Forgetful, Bald, Grey, Wrinkle (i.e. words connected to old age). After assembling the sentence, the students were sent out to do another experiment and the short walk was what the experiment was about.

When the researchers timed the walk, they found that the youngsters who assembled sentences with the elderly theme walked significantly slowly i.e. The set of words primed thoughts of old age (though ‘old’ is never mentioned) and that went on to prime a behaviour!

All this happened without any awareness, of course. None of the students had a clue and denied any influence of the words, or even a difference in behaviour. The idea of old age hadn’t even come to their conscious awareness.

And, although you aren’t aware of it, this story primed you as well! If you just stood up from your chair, you might have moved slowly. Unless you don’t like the elderly, in which case you might have moved faster.

Image source

I found this story absolutely amazing! It just goes to show how far the environment we live and work in, and the people we choose to spend our time with, have an effect in our lives. Often, the effect is not even conscious!

Here’s to looking after our environment for ‘priming’ effects this week!