What is priming? Well, it’s a strategy used to influence people’s behavior, one that has been studied in depth. The technical aspect is summarised as ‘an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences another stimulus’s response.’ Priming is a sensation of how vulnerability and exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a consequent stimulus without intention or conscious guidance (Chwilla, Kolk and Mulder, 2000, p.1).
McKoon and Ratcliff (1992, p. 1170) concluded that the volume of priming depends on the prime and target awareness as a union, where the union is formed by the contemporary presence of the prime and target in the short-term memory test item. Even though priming can be extremely influential in general, the main question arises about how it will be beneficial in improving websites?
Two types of priming take place when it concerns a website and its UX:
- Perceptual priming occurs when a task resembles the prime in form or shape
- Conceptual priming takes place when a task has a related meaning to the prime (they are semantically related).
Priming is applicable in planning and designing the user experience. If you want users to perform a specific action after the onboarding flow, it is possible to prime for that with some strategic image placement.
Let’s say you have a mobile shopping app with some onboarding walkthrough screens describing the app’s features. You show the users how to access the categories screen in one of the screens. Next to the text demonstrating how to do that, you also have a pleasant blue icon portraying a sketched iPhone, whose obvious sole function is to accompany the text. The icon actually acts as a prime in reality. When the users get to the screen comprising the categories, they are likely to choose the blue Electronics section as their first interaction.
You might want to direct the users there for several reasons: maybe that specific category/section is the most populated, perhaps you want to increase the sales of electronics, perhaps the shopping app is specialized in electronics, et cetera. Whatever the motive may be, priming can present you with a small nudge in some situations.
Priming studies also suggest that we should select our images and words with diligence when designing the UX of a website.
Our visitors make decisions based on their instant first impressions, so picking elements that accurately reflect the message we want to project is essential (Budiu, 2016). If taken into account from the beginning of the UX process, priming can act as a hidden factor of influence in users’ decisions.
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Chwilla, D. J., Kolk, H. H. J., & Mulder, G. (2000). Mediated Priming in the Lexical Decision Task: Evidence from Event-Related Potentials and Reaction Time. Journal of Memory and Language, 42(3), 314–341. https://doi.org/10.1006/jmla.1999.2680
McKoon, G., & Ratcliff, R. (1992). Spreading activation versus compound cue accounts of priming: Mediated priming revisited. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 18(6), 1155–1172. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-73188.8.131.525
Budiu, R. (2016). Priming and User Interfaces. Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/priming/