Priming, in relation to human behavior, is the idea that exposure to an external stimulus can subconsciously trigger our brains to drive specific behaviors.
A study in Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” examined how a simple word could prime the brain to think differently in a similar situation. Subjects were exposed to one of two words and then shown the letters “SO_P” and asked to fill in the blank.
People who were exposed to the word “eat” prior to the exercise were more likely to fill in the letter “U” (SOUP), and those exposed to the word “shower” were more like to fill in the letter “A” (SOAP).
In this situation, the first word they were exposed to impacted their interpretation of the blank letter and completed word. This is a simple example, but priming can also cause us to unconsciously engage in behaviors both good and bad.