It might seem like an odd request, but think of a lucky dwarf. Are you thinking of one? Good. Now go with your immediate gut reaction and think of a number between one and ten. Quick! Stick with the first number that pops inside your head, and don’t change your mind.
Are you thinking of a number? Although it’s far from foolproof, you were more likely to think of the number seven.
Using the disguise of a word-puzzle task, Bargh, Chen, and Burrows (1996) exposed people to words relating to the elderly (e.g., bingo, wise, retired, Florida). When the experiment was supposedly over, what do you think happened when people walked out of the room? Astonishingly, compared to a control group, people walked out of the room significantly slower when they were exposed to the elderly related words. Those words primed a schema for the elderly, which then activated behavior that people associate with the elderly: walking slow.
Priming a particular schema can trigger spreading activation.
Our perception of the world is largely dictated by the primes in our surrounding environment. For example, experienced advertisers realize that choosing when and where to air a television commercial is an extremely important choice because of priming effects. When viewers watch the last scene before a commercial break, that last scene can activate a certain schema, which can then influence how people perceive the next commercial.