Chivers, T. (2019). What’s next for psychology’s embattled field of social priming. Nature, 576(7786), 200-202.

Three years ago, a team of psychologists challenged 180 students with a spatial puzzle. The students could ask for a hint if they got stuck. But before the test, the researchers introduced some subtle interventions to see whether these would have any effect.

The psychologists split the volunteers into three groups, each of which had to unscramble some words before doing the puzzle. One group was the control, another sat next to a pile of play money and the third was shown scrambled sentences that contained words relating to money.

The study, published this June1, was a careful repeat of a widely cited 2006 experiment2. The original had found that merely giving students subtle reminders of money made them work harder: in this case, they spent longer on the puzzle before asking for help. That work was one among scores of laboratory studies which argued that tiny subconscious cues can have drastic effects on our behaviour.

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