Material Priming: The Influence of Mundane Physical Objects on Situational Construal and Competitive Behavior Choice

Material Priming: The Influence of Mundane Physical Objects on Situational Construal and Competitive Behavior Choice

By
Aaron C. Kay, S. Christian Wheeler, John A. Bargh, Lee Ross
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. September
2004, Vol. 95, Issue 1, Pages 83–96

Inspired by potential theoretical linkages between nonconscious priming work in psychology and the anthropological emphasis on the impact of material culture, five studies were conducted to investigate the role of implicitly presented material objects and automatic processes in interpersonal and organizational contexts. These studies showed that exposure to objects common to the domain of business (e.g., boardroom tables and briefcases) increased the cognitive accessibility of the construct of competition (Study 1), the likelihood that an ambiguous social interaction would be perceived as less cooperative (Study 2), and the amount of money that participants proposed to retain for themselves in the “Ultimatum Game” (Studies 3 and 4). A fifth study, in which the ambiguity of the governing social situation was manipulated, demonstrated that these types of effects are most likely to occur in contexts that are ambiguous and/or lacking in explicit normative demands. The importance of these situation-specific “material priming” effects (all of which occurred without the participants’ awareness of the relevant influence) to judgment and behavioral choice in specific contexts, as well as to the fostering of less competitive organizational settings, is discussed.