Francesca R. Dillman Carpentier

in Communication

ISBN: 9780199756841
Published online February 2011 | | DOI:

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Using the analogy of priming a water pump to get the water ready for use, priming in social science research refers to the “activation” of an idea in a person’s mind, readying that idea for use in later activities, such as making a judgment or reacting to someone else’s action. Thus, priming involves how we cognitively process information. Theories about how and why priming effects occur are largely based on network models of semantic memory. According to these network models, information is stored in memory as nodes. Each node represents a concept, and, like a computer network, each node is connected to other nodes via associative pathways. The closer two nodes are to one another, the more related those nodes are to each other. When one node is activated (e.g., activating “weapon” by seeing a gun on television), the activation can spread to other related nodes (e.g., “aggression”). All of the activated nodes are now easily accessible in memory, “primed” for later use. Hundreds of studies across psychology, communication, political science, and other fields have tested and observed that single words, images, music, narratives—anything that conveys a concept stored in a person’s memory—can elicit a priming effect. Much of the theory development with regard to priming comes from psychology via studies that tend to use simple primes, such as single words or short sentences, to test for priming effects. Communication research tends to focus on how news and entertainment media can serve as primes that influence people’s thoughts and behaviors. Because of this focus, communication scholars are necessarily dealing with a higher level of complexity with regard to the actual primes, as any one news story, entertainment program, popular song, or music video can trigger multiple ideas in the media consumer’s mind.

Article.  7447 words. 

Subjects: Communication Studies

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