Unraveling Priming: When Does the Same Prime Activate a Goal versus a Trait?

Unraveling Priming: When Does the Same Prime Activate a Goal versus a Trait?

By
Aner Sela, Baba Shiv
Journal of Consumer Research. October
2009, Vol. 36, Issue 3, Pages 418-433

Consumers are constantly exposed to subtle situational cues that can influence behavior by priming either goals or “mere” semantic representations such as personality traits. However, little is known about when exactly such priming leads to goal activation, which can have enduring behavioral effects, and when the same prime leads to semantic activation, characterized by short‐lived effects. This research proposes an activation‐striving model, which proposes that behavioral effects of primes are moderated by discrepancies between the prime and the self‐concept. Three studies suggest that self‐consistent primes are more likely to influence choice via semantic activation, whereas self‐discrepant primes are more likely to influence choice via goal activation.