PRIMING EFFECT

Priming occurs when exposure to mediated communication activates related thoughts that have been stored in the mind of an audience member. Media message content triggers concepts, thoughts, learning, or knowledge acquired in the past that are related to the message content. In this way, message content is connected, associated, or reinforced by related thoughts and concepts that it brings to mind. For a certain period after viewing such content, a person is more likely to have thoughts or memories become permanently associated with the message content, or stimulus.

theories of communication  PRIMING EFFECT

E.g. if one views a rail accident or air accident the viewer might recall an accident he is part of. his interest in he news story and his reaction to it may well be affected by his existing knowledge and previous experiences. In other words his memories primed him to react in a particular way to the story. The priming activation may also influence a person’s behavior, causing him or her to act or react in some way , sometimes with undesirable consequences . The most sensational example of undesirable priming, in this case operating with social learning theory may be that of COPYCAT crimes- especially murder or other violent crimes that occurred after the person was PRIMED by movie or program

Instance of copycat crimes are grave extremes of priming. Such cases represent a very small percentage of the population experience priming affects so completely that they actually MODEL OR IMITATE the viewed behavior. Priming effects from the viewing of media violence are normally much more subtle but even that level they represent cause for concern.

Conceptual Roots

Priming is based upon the concept of cognitive neo association. This social psychological perspective attempts to explain a portion of the phenomenon memory.

To understand cognitive neo association, one must picture the brain as a complex network or pathway that connect associated ideas, thoughts feelings and concepts.

Memory can be described as the overall network, when a person watches a television program or reads a newspaper the information being processed triggers or activates certain pathway throughout the net work. Individual thoughts or feelings from past experiences are remembered and associated with the new information. These ideas and thoughts may stimulate other, related ideas and they may influence a person’s actions. Ideas connected to emotions trigger associated feelings and responses.

E.g. research has shown that thinking depressing thoughts can actually cause feeling of depression and exposure to ideas of aggression can produce feelings of anger or even aggressive acts under some circumstances. Similarly a sad scene in a movie, causes audience to remember similar moment in their own lives and recall emotions associated with the events.- a painful separation, death of a lived one , a tragic accident.

Individual differences in perceptions, of course cause priming activation strengths to vary considerably from person to person. However, number of media effects studies have shown strong evidence for priming, especially for the priming of ideas related to aggression. One study found that children who read comic books with violent content were more likely to gave aggressive thoughts than children who read comic books with more neutral contents.

Variables that enhance priming effects

Modeling from mass media, then is an efficient way to learn wide range of behavior and solution to problems that we otherwise learn slowly or not at all , or pay too high a price to learn in the actual environment.

Research has shown that there are some intervening variables that strengthen the cause- effect phenomenon when they are present , which are following:

i. The perceived meaning of the communication

ii. The perceive justifiability of the witnessed aggression

iii. The extent to which audiences identify with the characters

iv.The perceived reality of the mediated communication

v.The stimulus of prior experiences

1. Perceived meaning

In a research first participants were angered then shown professional prize fights and professional football. They were given the information that either they were fighting to hurt others or simply performing their professional jobs. Afterwards there were asked to give electric shocks to those who angered them. The ones who were told that athletes were trying to hurt each other showed evidence of being ‘primed’ with more aggressive thoughts as they administered more punishing electrical

2. Percieved justifiability

Research has also shown that viewers of mediated violence are also influenced in their actions by the outcomes of the situations they see.

A number of studies reveal that viewers believe what happens on television or in movies could also happen to them if they behave in ways similar to the characters depicted .When viewers see aggressors suffering as a result of their behavior; they are les likely to imitate the aggressive behavior. Also when viewers are reminded of the serious and unfortunate consequences of violence, aggression is usually restrained

3. Character identification

Research has shown that identification with a media character enhances priming effects. In an experiment first participants were angered and then shown a prizefight.

One group was told to think of themselves as the winner. The 2nd group was asked to think of themselves as the referee. The 3rd group did not receive any instructions. Half the group was asked to think of the word ‘hit’ each time winner punched his opponent. After the movie each participants had the opportunity to shock the person who had angered him, the most severe punishment was administered by the group of men who had pictured themselves as the winner and had thought hit with each punch

4. Perceived reality

The perceived reality of media depictions can also intensify the strength of priming effects. Research has shown that priming effects are strongest when audiences believe they are witnessing actual rather than fictional events. E.g. in one study angered participants saw the same war film, but only half were told it was a fictional movies. The other half were led to believe that the film depicted actual combat groups. Similarly in another study similar results among three groups of 5th and 6th grade children. first group saw a fight being reported realistically on the news. 2nd in the context of fantasy entertainment. 3rd in control viewed as an ordinary commercial . When tested first group scored significantly higher on an aggression index than the other two.

5. Memories of prior experiences

Another factor identified with enhancing priming effects is that of prior learning or remembered experiences. As an audience member views a violent act, he or she remembers other occasions when semantically similar thoughts or feelings cropped up. The memory reactivates a neural network and strengthens the effects of priming.

Recent research and the future trends

In recent years effects scholars have continued to study priming effects, especially those that result from exposure to media violence. In the Annual Review of Sociology it was stated that much of the evidence that links mediated violence to the aggressiveness or the priming of aggressive thoughts.

In recent years, priming effects have been found in areas of communication research other than media violence studies such as political communications, Minority portrayals and Advertisements. The number of media effects studies base upon priming theory continues to increase as more research seek to identify the links between media priming and the subsequent attitudes and behaviors of audience members.

Summary

Priming is a popular area of media effects research that explores the cognitive components of information processing. Priming occurs when exposure to mediated communication activates related thoughts in the mind of an audience member. Media content triggers concepts, thoughts, learning or knowledge acquired in the past and related to the message content. For a certain period of time after viewing, a person is more likely to have thoughts about the content, related thoughts, or memories, sometimes these related thoughts become permanently associated with the message content or stimulus.

Priming may influence a person’s behavior

The person may act or react in a certain way, sometimes with undesirable consequences. . Instances of copycat crimes are grave extremes of priming.

Priming is based upon the concept of cognitive neo association which attempts to explain the phenomenon of memory. Individual thoughts or feelings from past experiences are remembered and associated with the new information. Ideas connected to emotion trigger associated feelings and responses, audience members are likely to have thoughts with similar meanings to what they are viewing or semantically similar thoughts.

Most studies on priming use tight controls in laboratory situations. The connection between the priming of aggressive thoughts and the actual display of aggression is not particularly strong unless certain variables are present. These include:

  • The perceived meaning of the communication
  • The perceived justifiability of the witnessed aggression
  • The perceived reality of the mediated communication and e
  • The stimulus of prior experiences

In recent years, a number of media violence studies have shown evidence for priming effects. Future research on priming by media effects scholars will continue to search for answers.

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