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Problem summary

Decisions are unconsciously shaped by what we have recently experienced


  • Use to guide users to the right choice.
  • Use to instil relevant emotions in your target audience that will bring forth emotions relevant for a future decision

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  • Use metaphors. Conceptual metaphors refer to information that can unconsciously help bring specific decision outcomes to mind.
  • Trigger relevant emotions. Use imagery or video to create associative priming with the subsequent expected experience.
  • Use visual imagery. Colors, pictures and videos all have the power to unconsciously bring up cues that might be replicated at a later point in the user experience.


Exposure to a word, sign, picture, or meaning anchors the idea and allows us to more quickly recognise related options. After being primed in one direction, our instinctive preference thereafter will be in a related direction. Being semantically primed eases mental processing of that information at a later stage, creating a sense of cognitive fluency and ease of use.


Types of priming:

  • Conceptual priming. When related ideas are used to prime the response (e.g. ‘hat’ may prime for ‘head’).
  • Semantic priming. When the meaning created influences later thoughts. Semantic and conceptual priming are similar and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
  • Non-associative semantic priming. Related concepts but one is less likely to trigger thoughts of the other (e.g. ‘Sun’ and ‘Venus’).
  • Perceptual priming. Based on the form of the stimulus, for example where a part-picture is completed based on a picture seen earlier (like the camel example above).
  • Associative priming. When a linked idea is primed (e.g. ‘bread’ primes the thought of ‘butter’).
  • Masked priming. When word or image is presented for a very short time but is not consciously noticed.
  • Repetitive priming. Repetition of a word or phrase leads to influencing later thoughts.
  • Reverse priming. When people realize they’re being primed and overcorrect in the other direction.

Although semantic, associative, and form priming have been well examined with solid evidence, longer-term priming effects have come under scrutiny casting doubt on their effectiveness or even existence. Daniel Kahneman called for a general check on the research robustness in the priming community in 2012.

1 Priming at

2 Priming and the Psychology of Memory by Kendra Cherry

3 Priming, explained by The Decision Lab

4 Reisberg D (2007). Cognition: Exploring the Science of the Mind, page 255, 517

5 Meyer DE (2014). “Semantic priming well established”. Science. 345 (6196): 523.

User Interface Design Patterns