Can subliminal persuasion work? Is there a way to resist it?

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We investigated the effect of goal priming on the processing of a persuasive message. Before reading a persuasive message about tap water consumption, participants were subliminally primed (or not) with the goal “to trust”. Subsequently, they completed a questionnaire about their perception of the message, the source of the message, and tap water consumption intentions. The results indicated that non-conscious activation of the goal “to trust” leads to a better evaluation of the message, increases behavioral intentions in accordance with the message, and positively influences the assessment of the source.


Subliminal priming of the goal “to trust” enhanced the persuasiveness of a subsequently displayed message. 

► Participants primed with the goal of trusting evaluated more positively the message and its source. 

► Primed participants also expressed more behavioral intentions in line with the message.

► The goal “to trust” is a general goal that can influence information processing and persuasion.

Source: “Don’t you know that you want to trust me? Subliminal goal priming and persuasion” from Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

And, yes:

In three experiments, we tested whether people can protect their ongoing goal pursuits from antagonistic priming effects by using if-then plans (i.e., implementation intentions). In Experiment 1, concept priming did not influence lexical decision time for a critical stimulus when participants had formed if-then plans to make fast responses to that stimulus. In Experiment 2, participants who were primed with a prosocial goal allowed a confederate who asked for help to interrupt their work on a focal task for a longer time if they had merely formed goal intentions to perform well than if they had also formed implementation intentions for concentrating on the task. In Experiment 3, priming the goal of being fast increased driving speed and errors for participants who had formed mere goal intentions to drive only as fast as safety allowed or who had formed no goal intentions, whereas the driving of participants who had formed such goal intentions as well as implementation intentions showed no such priming effects. Our findings indicate that implementation intentions are an effective self-regulatory tool for shielding actions from disruptive concept- or goal-priming effects.

Source: “Self-Regulation of Priming Effects on Behavior” from Psychological Science

(“If-then” plans are when you say to yourself ahead of time “if I see X, I will then do Y.”)

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