Individual Differences


Personality & Priming

Last updated:
21 Oct 2003

Different people seem predisposed to view the world in different ways. Thus people behave differently from one another even when in the same situation. According to Allport (1961): “For some the world is a hostile place where men are evil and dangerous, for others it is a stage for fun and frolic. It may appear to be a place to do one’s duty grimly; or a pasture for cultivating friendship and love”.

These differences in perception can be partly explained by the mechanism of priming. It’s likely that that throughout a child’s development some ideas are primed over and over again (that honesty is important/or that greed is important) and so the child becomes alert to these things throughout his or her life. Basically these constructs become chronically accessible and influence the way the child views the world.

Priming a semantic category makes the category more likely to be used later if it’s plausible (e.g. watching aggressive TV primes other semantically related pathways, that is related to aggression, and makes the aggression more likely to be used later). So watching violent TV will mean your mental pathways are constantly being primed with associations related to aggression and this thinking says: more likely to make you aggressive.

So once some idea has been primed spreading activation causes easier access to related memories. So this view sees your knowledge is an elaborate web of associations. When a memory node is activated i.e. the 201-lecture memory node has been activated because you are here now, then a partial activation spreads to nodes related to that one. So because something in some way linked to 201 has become partially activated it makes it easier for that thought or memory to become fully active.