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5. bargh - Psychological Inquiry 2003 Vol 14 No 3&4 216218...

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THE NOMINEES Why We Thought We Could Prime Social Behavior John A. Bargh Department of Psychology New York University Susan Fiske (this issue) is right on about the “discom- fort” some articles cause—but not just in readers! Some- times (as in our case), they discomfit the authors themselves. Our initial study (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996, Experiment 1) revealed differences that were quite large in the behavior of those participants primed to be rude versus those primed to be polite: 63% of the former group but only 17% of the latter group interrupted an on- going conversation when given an opportunity (and rea- son) to do so. At the time, the size of the effect surprised us, because the size of these effects on behavior were much larger than those of previous priming effects on so- cial-perceptual variables such as impressions. Even after replicating the effect three times (at the stereotype rather than single-trait level), we were in no rush to publish, wanting to be very sure of it first. And so it came as a great and happy relief when Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad van Knippenberg (1998; and then others) began doing related research that conceptually replicated ours. We need not have worried, as it turned out—the ef- fect has since proven to be very robust: It has been ob- tained with more than 20 different stereotypes and 25 different dependent measures (Dijksterhuis & Bargh, 2001). And although we might have performed the ini- tial studies, it was Dijksterhuis and his colleagues who sopainstakinglymappedoutthemediatorsandmodera- torsofthebehavior-primingeffectandTanyaChartrand whotookitintothedomainofnaturalisticsocialinterac- tion and also showed how the effect was related to the long-standing literature on mimicry and behavioral contagion (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Chen, Burrows, and I (Bargh et al., 1996) just happened to be first. Which brings up two questions that the journal edi- tors asked us to address: What caused us to do those first studies, and why were there so many subsequent ones? As Fiske suspected, the zeitgeist was in our case a big part of the answer to both of these questions. There were several converging reasons for why we designed and conducted experiments attempting to prime social be- havior. First, I had just finished a review of the extant social psychological priming and automaticity literature (Bargh, 1989) and, in the course of that review, had fo- cused on the extent of direct automatic influences of the environment on thought, judgment, and behavior. The evidence clearly showed the importance of one’s cur- rently operating goal or purpose as a mediator of one’s responses (i.e., judgments and behavior) back to that en- vironment. Automatic, environmentally triggered ef- fects on social cognition, then, seemed to be restricted to input processes, not output processes; at least that is what I had to conclude based on the available evidence.
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