The Power Of Priming

I’d like to experiment on you. Okay?

First, say the word “eat” out loud five times.

Now, fill in the blank to complete the word below:


You probably chose to create the word “soup” instead of “soap.” That’s because your mind was “primed” to create a word you associate with “eat.” Had I asked you to say “clean” out loud instead, the results would have been less delicious.

Let’s do another experiment before I explain what any of this has to do with your life today.

Below are groups of five words. For each group, make a sentence using four of its words. (Example: “car, the, cat, fast, drove” becomes “The car drove fast”)

1. Florida, flew, my, blue, family

2. the, wrinkles, cat, gray, slept

3. ate, brother, my, bananas, bald

4. me, presents, grandparents, sent, red

If you were to get up and walk across the room right now you’d probably do so more slowly than usual. Why? Because I primed you with words your mind associates with being old: “Florida, wrinkles, gray, bald, forgetful, grandparents.” And your mind associates being old with being slow. Priming not only steers our thoughts but also influences our actions.


My favorite priming experiments were dreamt up by Kathleen Vohs. She put money on the minds of unsuspecting college students the same way I put soup and geezers on yours. Then she watched how they behaved.

When the experimenter “accidentally” dropped a jar of pencils, for instance, the students primed to think about money helped pick up fewer pencils than those who were not primed. But that’s not all she observed.

Money-primed students were more likely to…

  • prefer being alone
  • show less compassion for others

And less likely to…

  • depend upon others or ask for help when needed
  • follow instructions from others

Our behavior reveals which values we most closely associate with money: independence and competence. Not community, humility or generosity.

money quote

We are constantly primed to think about money – getting it, growing it, spending it. We can make choices every day that will reduce the amount of money-priming we’re subjected to…but we’ll never escape it altogether right? But we can slowly change the values we associate with money. We can daily prime ourselves for generosity.

And we will live more humbly and generously. That’s the power of priming.

On Friday I’ll give you a FREE tool created to prime us (and our kids) for generous living at home and around the world. See you then.