Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

13
I Think, Therefore I Act:
Priming Intelligence
With Social Stereotypes

“The definition of genius is that it acts unconsciously; and those who have produced immortal works, have done so without knowing how or why. The greatest power operates unseen. ”

—William Hazlitt (1778–1830), English essayist


BACKGROUND

One day, a young man drives past a giant billboard. On it is a colorful advertisement for vacations in Iceland. The most eye-catching feature is an elegant Nordic lady provocatively sipping a chilled cocktail. The man pays hardly any attention—a week in the frozen tundra is just not his idea of an exotic getaway. Some weeks later, however, he finds himself quite unaccountably on a plane bound for Reykjavik. How could the advertisement, so briefly sighted, have prompted such a drastic change in attitude? The answer becomes apparent on closer inspection. The glass in the lady's hand contained a number of ice-cubes. Within these ice-cubes, obscured by patterns of refracted light, lay the sultry image of a naked woman. The man unconsciously perceived this woman as he drove by. She then lodged in his mind, and became permanently linked to all things Icelandic. Thereafter, every time his restless libido stirred, he felt the North Atlantic calling to him like a siren. Eventually he felt compelled to buy a flight ticket.

According to Key (1981), such subliminal seduction is rife. Advertising agencies everywhere deliberately embed sexual images in their ads to beguile us into purchasing their products. Knowing that our conscious minds will likely reject their pitch, they seek to win over our unconscious minds. And, because our unconscious minds ultimately cause everything we do,

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