If you have old age in the back of your mind, you may behave older

If you have old age in the back of your mind, you may behave older

Social psychologists love studying the effects of β€œpriming”. This is where they subtly activate schemata we have in our minds without us noticing they have been activated. A schema is like a post-it note in our heads with our beliefs about a concept. For example, our schema for older people might be that they are wrinkled, grey-haired people who move slowly and may use walking aids. A psychologist may activate this schema in you by giving you verbal tasks to perform with some words thrown in which could be linked to old age.
Having a schema activated makes you quicker to recognise associated objects and words. Your schema for bananas might be activated by your being exposed to the words fruit, curved, yellow and so on, carefully placed amongst plenty of irrelevant ones. You will then more quickly recognise the word banana. You would also more quickly recognise (when reading or hearing) words and concepts you associate with bananas: perhaps fruit in general, monkeys, or even the jungle.
Having a schema activated can also make you behave in that way. For example, having rudeness activated made people more likely to interrupt an on-going conversation to ask a question. Bargh, Chen and Burrows found that people with their schema for old age activated subsequently walked more slowly.
Because, in the USA, people stereotypically go to Florida to retire, this effect became known as The Florida Effect.

Mailing list:

Please sign up to hear about new articles and occasional fun facts about the way we think.

If my articles interest you, you would really enjoy my book, Bias Beware, available here.