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The Relation Between Perception and Behavior, or How to Win a Game of Trivial Pursuit

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Abstract

The authors tested and confirmed the hypothesis that priming a stereotype or trait leads to complex overt behavior in line with this activated stereotype or trait. Specifically, 4 experiments established that priming the stereotype of professors or the trait intelligent enhanced participants' performance on a scale measuring general knowledge. Also, priming the stereotype of soccer hooligans or the trait stupid reduced participants' performance on a general knowledge scale. Results of the experiments revealed (a) that prolonged priming leads to more pronounced behavioral effects and (b) that there is no sign of decay of the effects for at least 15 min. The authors explain their results by claiming that perception had a direct and pervasive impact on overt behavior (cf. J.A. Bargh, M. Chen, & L. Burrows, 1996). Implications for human social behavior are discussed.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
IW8,
Vol. 74, No. 4, 865-877
Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
0022-3514V98/S3.00
The Relation Between Perception and Behavior,
or How to Win a Game of Trivial Pursuit
Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad van Knippenberg
University of Nijmegen
The authors tested and confirmed the hypothesis that priming a stereotype or trait leads to complex
overt behavior in line with this activated stereotype or trait. Specifically, 4 experiments established
that priming the stereotype of professors or the trait intelligent enhanced participants' performance
on a scale measuring general knowledge. Also, priming the stereotype of soccer hooligans or the
trait stupid reduced participants' performance on a general knowledge scale. Results of the experi-
ments revealed (a) that prolonged priming leads to more pronounced behavioral effects and (b) that
there is no sign of decay of the effects for at least 15 min. The authors explain their results by
claiming that perception has a direct and pervasive impact on overt behavior (cf. J. A. Bargh, M.
Chen, & L. Burrows, 1996). Implications for human social behavior are discussed.
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not
thinking.
—Christopher Isherwood
Some time ago, a few members of the Department of Social
Psychology of the University of Nijmegen visited a soccer match.
After they had parked their car, they walked the remaining mile
to the stadium. The psychologists, behaving calmly and orderly
as ever, were surrounded by hundreds of soccer fans and hooli-
gans,
many of whom were yelling and shouting. After some
time,
one of the members of the department engaged in some-
what unusual behavior. He saw an empty beer can, and, in what
seemed to be an impulsive act, he kicked it as far away as
possible. During the next few minutes, he and a slightly embar-
rassed colleague pondered on possible explanations.
One explanation is that, upon seeing soccer hooligans, one
may—without being aware of it—-start to act like them. That
is,
the activation of the representation of soccer hooligans leads
to the tendency to behave similarly. Recent research showed that
this is indeed possible. The mere perception of a person or a
group of persons triggers a mechanism producing the tendency
to behave correspondingly. In a series of studies, Bargh, Chen,
and Burrows (1996) demonstrated such unconscious and unin-
tentional effects of perception on social behavior. It was estab-
lished that priming someone with a trait (e.g., rudeness) or
a stereotype (e.g., elderly, African American) indeed leads to
Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad van Knippenberg, Department of Social Psy-
chology, University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
This research was facilitated by a Royal Netherlands Academy of
Sciences fellowship awarded to Ap Dijksterhuis. We thank the many
colleagues who gave us valuable advice during conferences at which
we presented these findings.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ap
Dijksterhuis, Department of Social Psychology, University of Nijmegen,
P.O.
Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Electronic mail
may be sent to dijksterhuis@psych.kun.nl.
behavior in line with the activated constructs (see also Carver,
Ganellen, Froming, & Chambers, 1983; Neuberg, 1988). For
example, priming participants with the stereotype of the elderly
made participants walk more slowly than participants who were
not primed (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996, Experiment 2).
In our view, the notion that behavior is under direct perceptual
control is of central importance for the understanding of human
behavior. After all, upon meeting someone, one usually makes
several categorizations instantly. One infers personality traits
from the behavior of others spontaneously (Winter & Uleman,
1984).
One activates stereotypes automatically (Devine, 1989).
Hence, it is not immoderate to conclude that social interaction
usually involves the activation of trait constructs and stereo-
types.
In this light, the findings of Bargh, Chen, and Burrows
(1996),
establishing that people's actions are unintentionally
affected by these activated traits and stereotypes, do warrant
further exploration.
With the present research, we want to make two contributions.
First, we address the question of whether the effects of percep-
tion on behavior are confined to relatively simple actions or
whether one can also evoke more complex behavioral patterns
this way. Second, we explore the parameters of the perception-
behavior link. Specifically, we study the relation between the
strength of the prime and the strength of the resulting behavioral
effect. Furthermore, we investigate the decay function of the
effects of perception on behavior.
In should be noted in advance that throughout this article,
we use the term perception rather loosely. The object of investi-
gation is perception, or the activation of perceptual representa-
tions.
In our research, as well as in most of the research we
discuss and in most social cognition research in general, the
researcher does not activate representations (e.g., a stereotype)
by presenting participants with the real object of perception
(e.g., a group member). Instead, the researcher uses priming
manipulations to activate these perceptual representations.
Hence, for the sake of simplicity, receiving priming (including
the somewhat unorthodox priming manipulations we use) is
treated as functionally equivalent to perception. We realize, how-
865
866
DUKSTERHUIS AND VAN KNIPPENBERG
ever, that our priming procedures do not literally reflect social
perception processes,
Perception and Overt Behavior
The notion that perception (or the activation of a perceptual
representation) may lead to corresponding overt behavior has
been recognized since long ago by some of our most influential
thinkers (see, e.g., Arnold, 1946; Charcot, 1886; James, 1890;
Koffka, 1925; Piaget, 1946). Underlying this idea is the assump-
tion that apart from perceptual or cognitive representations (e.g.,
traits,
stereotypes), behaviors are mentally represented as well
and that these perceptual and behavioral representations are
somehow intimately linked. Indeed, many theorists (e.g., Bargh,
in press; Berkowitz, 1984; Carver & Scheier, 1981; Mischel,
1973;
Schank & Abelson, 1977; Vallacher, 1993) have discussed
this possibility. Prinz (1990), in a review of the research on the
"common coding" hypothesis, explained why mere perception
can affect overt behavior relatively easily:
Acts are completely commensurate and continuous with percepts.
Percepts and acts both refer to events with comparable attributes.
Both are characterized by location (in space and time) and contents
(in terms of physical and non-physical properties), the only differ-
ence being that percepts refer to ongoing, actor-independent events
and acts to to-be-generated, actor-dependent events, (pp. 171-172).
Research by Rosch and Mervis (1975; see also Carver & Scheier,
1981) supports the notion of common coding of percepts and
acts.
Participants in their study were asked to generate attributes
of a target word. Participants listed not only perceptual attributes
but also behavioral responses. Carver and Scheier (1981), in
discussing the research by Rosch and Mervis (1975), provided
a nice example. The target apple elicited "red," "round,
1
' and
"grows on trees" but also "you can eat it." Hence, it seems
that, in line with the common coding hypothesis, actions are
encoded in much the same way as other (perceptual) attributes
of a given stimulus (see Carver & Scheier, 1981, p. 121). This
suggests that perception and action have shared representational
systems, again, an idea that has been postulated by several other
researchers (e.g., Bandura, 1977; Koffka, 1925; Piaget, 1946).
Toward Priming Complex Behavior
The available evidence for effects of the activation of mental
representations on overt behavior is largely confined to areas
of behavior of a relatively elementary nature, such as arm move-
ments (Eidelberg, 1929; Smeets & Brenner, 1995). The early
research of Eidelberg (1929) can be taken as an example. Eidel-
berg (1929; see also Prinz, 1990) instructed participants to point
at their nose at the verbal instruction "nose" and to point to a
lamp upon hearing the word "lamp." During this task, the
experimenter also pointed to his nose or to the lamp. As soon
as the experimenter started to make mistakes (pointing at his
nose after the instruction "lamp"), participants made mistakes
too,
although they were explicitly instructed to follow the verbal
instructions and not the experimenter's movements. Thus, it
seems that the activation of a mental representation of a specific
movement (here, the perception of a movement) resulted in the
tendency to actually make this movement. Another domain in
which perception has been shown to affect action is speech
production. It was shown that people unconsciously take over
accents of others (Dell, 1986). Moreover, people that are primed
with a certain syntax tend to use this syntax when producing a
sentence (e.g., Bock, 1986, 1989), even when the syntax is
grammatically incorrect (Levelt & Kelter, 1982). Speech pro-
duction, thus, is also partly under perceptual control.
Recently, Bargh and colleagues went a step further. Bargh,
Chen, and Burrows (1996) reported an experiment in which
participants were subliminally primed with the stereotype of
African Americans. Participants thus primed behaved more hos-
tile toward a confederate (see also Carver et al., 1983). In
comparison with participants in a control condition, primed
participants showed more aggressive facial expressions, and,
more pertinent to our present argument, they expressed more
verbal hostility. Hence, the influence of perception on behavior
goes beyond relatively simple, motoric responses (e.g., arm
movements).
We want to take another step by establishing the generalizabil-
ity of the perception-behavior link to behavior of an even
greater complexity. The question is, can very complex behavior
be evoked by mere perception? The relation between perception
and behavior in, for instance, the studies by Eidelberg (1929)
was assumed to be very direct. The mental representation that
is activated refers directly to behavior (cf. the "common coding
hypothesis'
*
formulated by Prinz). For more complex behaviors,
this relation is, of necessity, more complicated. If* for instance,
we activate the mental representation of intelligence, this should,
according to the same principle, result in the onset of "intelli-
gent behavior." However, unlike arm movements, intelligence
is not a behavior. If one assumes, though, that more abstract
constructs such as intelligence refer to classes of behavior, or
behavioral patterns (such as harder thinking or better concentra-
tion) on a more concrete level, and if one further assumes that
behavioral representations are hierarchically structured so that
abstract behavioral constructs can activate more concrete behav-
iors,
it is conceivable that the activation of a more abstract
mental representation also leads to overt behavior in line with
the primed construct. Below, we attempt to explicate the as-
sumed underlying process in some detail.
Theoretically, one can understand the unconscious instigation
of complex behavior on stereotype activation as the unrollment
of a partly hierarchically structured chain of events. As stereo-
types are associated with traits (e.g., Hamilton & Sherman,
1994;
Stangor & Lange, 1994), the priming of a stereotype
would activate the related trait constructs (Blair & Banaji, 1996;
Devine, 1989; Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 1996; Dovidio,
Evans, & Tyler, 1986; Macrae, Stangor, & Milne, 1994). In our
view, the activation of a trait (e.g., aggressive) may, in turn,
activate a number of behavioral representations characteristic
of the trait involved (e.g., looking angrily, speaking in an offen-
sive tone of voice, and maybe even wanting to hit someone or
something). In fact, in recent research on emotions, such action
components have been shown to be evoked by emotion concepts
(Frijda, Kuipers, & ter Schure, 1989). We assume that traits are
also associated with behavioral representations that constitute
instantiations of the trait in question. Suggestive evidence to
that effect may be found in early spontaneous trait inference
research in which, although the claim of spontaneous linkage
THE PERCEPTION-BEHAVIOR LINK
867
is in the reverse direction, trait cues facilitate recall of behavioral
episodes (Winter & Uleman, 1984; Winter, Uleman, &
Cunnif,
1985).
As a result of the existence of the trait-behavioral repre-
sentation links, the priming of a stereotype may elicit the uncon-
scious tendency to perform more or less complex behaviors
typical of the traits associated with this stereotype. Thus, for
instance, the activation of the trait intelligent (either by directly
priming the trait or by priming a stereotype that contains this
trait) may lead to the activation of a set of concrete behavioral
representations stored under it (e.g., to concentrate on a prob-
lem, to adopt an analytical approach, to think systematically
about possible solutions).
The presumed hierarchical linkage of mental representations
with concrete behaviors has already been argued to exist. There
are existing theories that conceive of the mental representation
of goals and behavior as hierarchical structures with associa-
tions between more abstract classes of behaviors (e.g., eating
and drinking) by means of intermediate levels (e.g., going out
for a meal) to very specific actions (e.g., moving my arm to
grab the raw herring with onions). Several theorists assume that
behavior on all (or at least many different) levels of abstractness
is mentally represented (e.g., Carver & Scheier,
1981;
Martin &
lesser, 1989; Powers, 1973; Vallacher & Wegner, 1985, 1987;
Wegner & Vallacher, 1987; see also Schank & Abelson, 1977).
As Carver and Scheier (1981) noted, "in any set of perceptions
the level of analysis to which one is attending dictates the level
of behavioral standard that becomes salient. And what standard
becomes salient dictates what action (if any) is subsequently
taken'' (p. 128). Thus, we assume that the activation of a stereo-
type leads to a broad set of behavioral tendencies in line with
this stereotype. In concrete terms, just as the representation of
"I'm hungry" leads to eating and later to moving one's arm
to grab the food, it is conceivable that the representation of
intelligence leads to a quite differentiated set of more concrete
behavioral representations at a lower level.
The Present Research
As was mentioned at the outset, we hope to make two contri-
butions with our research. First, we tested the effects of percep-
tion on action for behavior that is clearly more complex than
earlier demonstrations. Second, we explored some parameters
of the effects of perception on behavior.
Complex Behavior: Priming Ability-Related
Performances
To demonstrate the effect that stereotype activation can lead
to complex behavior or a behavioral pattern in line with this
stereotype, we attempted to affect people's performance on an
ability-related task. With regard to performance on an ability-
related task such as, for instance, a general knowledge task, it
may be argued that the mental activation of the concept of
intelligence (or knowledgeability) might enhance one's perfor-
mance (cf. Bargh, Gollwitzer, & Barndollar, 1996), whereas the
mental activation of stupidity might reduce it, compared with
one's average performance under normal circumstances. In our
experiments, we aimed to increase or decrease performance
on a general knowledge test by priming participants with the
stereotype of either professors or soccer hooligans. The prime
of professor, then, may lead to a set of more specific behavioral
changes, such as higher concentration, more analytical and sys-
tematic thinking, and more confidence in one's own knowledge-
ability, whereas the hooligan prime may lead to reduced concen-
tration and sloppier thinking.
It should be noted in advance that effects on performance,
specifically improvements, are obviously constrained by objec-
tive limitations (e.g., it seems unlikely that one could all of a
sudden play the violin merely upon hearing Beethoven's Violin
Concerto in E), but given natural within-person variations in
task performance over time, theoretically, perceptions or mental
representations of superior or inferior performance may have
corresponding effects on the person's performance. Thus, if one
is a reasonably skilled violin player, one may indeed play better
after hearing Beethoven's violin concertos.
We hypothesized that priming a stereotype (professor, hooli-
gan) would affect task performance in line with traits (intelli-
gence, stupidity) associated with the stereotype; specifically, we
predicted that these stereotype primes would lead to increased
or decreased performance on a general knowledge task. As with
the Beethoven example, this general prediction presumes that
individual task performance, including performance on ability-
related tasks, may vary over time. Specifically, it is assumed
that although there obviously exist circumstances that hamper
task performance, there may also exist (social and mental) con-
ditions that temporarily enhance one's level of performance.
The occurrence of both task performance facilitation and debili-
tation is documented in the social facilitation and inhibition
literature (e.g., Zajonc, 1965). Mostly, social facilitation and
inhibition effects are theorized to be mediated by capacity and
motivational mechanisms (e.g., Manstead & Semin, 1980; Sand-
ers,
1981), but for the present purpose, it suffices to realize that
base-rate performance levels tend to be suboptimal, allowing
not only for further deterioration but also for enhancement (see
also Bargh, Gollwitzer, & Barndollar, 1996). Hence, in general
terms,
it is conceivable that priming mechanisms may improve
as well as impair human task performance.
Parameters
For exploratory reasons, we include tests of some of the
parameters of the relation between perception and behavior in
the experiments. First, we investigate the relation between the
magnitude of the prime and the magnitude of the behavioral
effect. Furthermore, we try to shed light on the decay function of
behavior evoked by perception. For both parameters, we briefly
present the tentative hypotheses formulated on the basis of ear-
lier findings.
As for the relation between strength of prime and strength of
effect, the relevant earlier findings come from studies investigat-
ing the relation between priming and social judgment. On the
basis of the literature on the effects of priming on judgments,
one may hypothesize that the more intense or more prolonged
the instigating perception, the more intense the resulting behav-
ior (see Higgins, Bargh, & Lombardi, 1985; Srull & Wyer, 1979,
1980,
for such results in the domain of social judgments). In
concrete terms, considering that these predictions hold for the
effects of priming on behavior, it may be argued that one may
868
DIJKSTERHUIS AND VAN KNIPPENBERG
walk slowly after being primed with the stereotype of the elderly
(cf. Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996), a bit faster when one is
primed with the stereotype of psychologists, again faster when
one is primed with Carl Lewis for 1 min, and, more important,
still faster when one is primed with Carl Lewis for 15 min. We
test this hypothesis pertaining to the relation between magnitude
of perceptual input and magnitude of behavioral output in the
context of ability-related performance.
Furthermore, we try to shed light on the decay function of
behavior evoked by perception. Like Bargh, Chen, and Burrows
(1996),
we assume that in this respect the effects of perception
on behavior represents a different mechanism than the effects of
automatic goal priming on behavior. In a test of their automotive
model, Bargh, Gollwitzer, and Barndollar (1996) primed partici-
pants with either achievement or affiliation goals. They obtained
evidence that participants behaved accordingly but only on the
earlier trials of the dependent variables. Later, no trace of the
primed goal was found. However, unlike goal-directed action,
the behavior we are considering is not instigated to lead to a
desired outcome. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that
it ends when a specific state is reached. It does not contain a
"stop mechanism," so to speak. Once instigated, it is "left to
operate by default" (Bargh, Gollwitzer, & Barndollar, 1996,
p.
4). Tt follows from this reasoning that once instigated, the
termination of perception-induced action (e.g., walking very
slowly, in the Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996, study) is left to
other mechanisms (e.g., a conscious decision to walk faster
upon being told that the bus leaves in a minute), or it may
be overruled by competing behavioral effects set off by other
perceptual cues (e.g., bumping into Carl Lewis). In sum, in the
absence of external intervention, there is, theoretically, no reason
to expect decay over time. We tested this hypothesis in our
experiments.
The Experiments
In the experiments, we investigated the impact of stereotype
priming on overt behavior. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants
were primed with the stereotype of professors, of which intelli-
gence and knowledgeability are central features. We hypothe-
sized that on a subsequent, ostensibly unrelated, general knowl-
edge task, the participants' performance would be enhanced
when compared with performance in no-prime and intelligence-
irrelevant control conditions. In Experiment 3 participants were
primed with the stereotype of soccer hooligans. As soccer hooli-
gans are perceived as stupid (see, e.g., Dijksterhuis & van Knip-
penberg, 1996), the primed participants' performance on the
general knowledge scale was expected to decrease when com-
pared with the no-prime control condition. In Experiment 4, we
investigated whether priming participants directly with traits
(intelligent and stupid) led to the same effects as priming parti-
cipants with stereotypes associated with these traits (professor
and hooligan).
In Experiments 1, 2, and 3, we also studied stability of the
prime effect over time; that is, we looked at potential (absence
of) decay over time. Another manipulation was added to Experi-
ments 2 and 3: whether the magnitude of the effects varies
depending on the length of the prime. In these experiments,
participants who were primed for a long period of time (9 min)
were compared with participants who were primed for a short
period (2 min).
Experiment 1
In the first experiment, participants were primed with the
stereotype of professors. We expected these primed participants
to perform better on a general knowledge task, in line with the
attributes of the stereotype of professors, such as intelligence
and knowledgeability. We compared these results with two con-
ditions, one in which participants were not primed and one in
which participants were primed with secretaries, a stereotype
supposedly unrelated to knowledgeability and intelligence. Both
were treated as control conditions.
The priming procedure consisted of a task seemingly unre-
lated to the rest of the experiment (cf. Bargh & Pietromonaco,
1982;
Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 1996, 1997; Higgins,
Rholes, & Jones, 1977; Macrae et al., 1994). One may note that
our priming manipulation differs from the one used by Bargh,
Chen, and Burrows (1996) in that our participants were aware
of the content of the prime. However, of critical importance
for our test of unconscious effects of stereotype activation on
behavior is the fact that participants should be unaware of the
link between the priming manipulation and the task on which
the resulting effect is measured. In our experiments, participants
should not have been aware of the fact that the prime may have
influenced their performance. Whether participants were aware
of the specific content of the prime itself (e.g., a professor) is
irrelevant for our purposes (see, e.g., Bargh, 1994; Bargh &
Pietromonaco, 1982; Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 1996;
Higgins & King;
1981;
Higgins et al., 1977; Macrae et al., 1994;
Niedenthal & Cantor, 1986; Srull & Wyer, 1979, 1980, for a
similar argument).
The general knowledge task consisted of a questionnaire with
42 difficult multiple-choice questions borrowed from the game
Trivial Pursuit (1984/1987).
Method
Participants and design. Sixty undergraduate students of the Univer-
sity of Nijmegen were randomly assigned to one of three experimental
conditions: a professor prime condition, a secretary prime (control)
condition, or a no-prime control condition. Participants received 5 Dutch
guilders (Dfl) (approximately U.S. $3) for participating.
Procedure and materials. Participants were told that they would
participate in a number of unrelated pilot studies. The pilot studies were
allegedly for the purpose of gathering stimulus materials for forthcoming
experiments. Upon entering the laboratory, participants were placed in
cublicles containing an Apple Macintosh (LCIII) computer. Participants
were told that all instructions would be provided by the computer Subse-
quently, the experimenter started the computer program and left the
cubicle. After some general instructions were provided, the computer
randomly assigned participants to one of three experimental conditions:
Participants either were primed with the stereotype of professors or the
stereotype of secretaries or were not primed at all. The latter participants
started with the questionnaire containing the dependent variable
immediately.
The priming procedure we used was the same procedure used earlier
by Macrae et al. (1994) and by Dijksterhuis and van Knippenberg
(1996).
Participants were asked, by the computer, to imagine a typical
professor (or secretary) for 5 min and to list the behaviors, lifestyle,
THE PERCEPTION-BEHAVIOR LINK
869
and appearance attributes of this typical professor (or secretary). Partici-
pants were requested
to
list their thoughts
on a
blank sheet
of
paper that
had been provided
by the
experimenter when participants entered their
cubicles. Participants were told that this information would
be
used
for
forthcoming experiments
of
the Department
of
Social Psychology.
The
choice
for
stereotypes
of
professors
and
secretaries was based
on a
pilot
study
in
which
40
participants rated these
(and
other) groups
on 56
traits.
In
this pilot study, 9-point scales were used, with poles labeled
professors [secretaries] are not
at
all
(1)
and professors [secretar-
ies]
are
very
(9).
Professors were perceived
as
intelligent
(M =
7.78)
and as
knowledgeable
{M =
7.56). Secretaries were chosen
as
an additional control condition. They were rated near
the
midpoint
of
the scale (i.e.,
as
neutral) with respect
to the
traits intelligent
{M
5.05)
and
knowledgeable
(M =
4.83).
After they
had
completed
the
priming procedure, participants were
asked
to
start with
a
second, purportedly unrelated task.
The
computer
program asked the participants
to
open an envelope that was
on
the table
next to the computer. This envelope contained
a
booklet with 42 multiple-
choice questions, each with four choice options.
The
booklet consisted
of
six
pages.
On
each page, seven questions were listed. Participants
were told that
the
Personality Department
was
currently developing
a
"general knowledge" scale. This scale consisted
of
five subscales, each
containing
42
questions.
The
subscales ranged from very easy
(1) to
very difficult (5).
At
that time, we told participants,
we
were testing
the
differences
in
difficulty between the five subscales. For ethical purposes
we told all participants that they would receive the most difficult subscale
(prestudies indicated that students answered about 50% correctly, indi-
cating that
the
questions were fairly difficult, considering that
a
score
of 25% would
be
obtained
by
mere guessing). Participants were asked
to answer the questions
by
choosing one
out of
four options. They were
told that there were
no
time constraints. They were asked
to
push
a
button before they started
and
after they finished. This
was
done
to
measure
the
time participants spent
on the
task.
The
42
questions were
all
taken from
the
game Trivial Pursuit,
For
each question,
in
addition
to the
correct answer, three incorrect choice
options were also provided. Examples
of
questions
and
choice options
are
"Who
painted
La
Guernica?"
(a.
Dali,
b.
Miro,
c.
Picasso,
d.
Velasquez), "What
is
the capital
of
Bangladesh?"
(a.
Dhaka,
b.
Hanoi,
c. Yangon,
d.
Bangkok)
and
"Which country hosted
the
1990 World
Cup soccer?"
(a. the
United States,
b.
Mexico,
c.
Spain,
d.
Italy).
The
right answer
was
option
a on 11
questions, option
b on 11
questions,
option
c on 10
questions,
and
option
d on 10
questions.
To
control
for
possible order effects, we constructed six different booklets.
In
different
versions, each page appeared
as the
first page,
as the
second page
and
so
on, to the
last page.
Ten
copies were made
of all six
versions.
The
booklets were randomly distributed among
the
participants.
After completing the questionnaire, participants were debriefed care-
fully. First, participants who were primed were asked which departments
were conducting the experiments. With just three exceptions, participants
correctly recalled that the first experiment was conducted
by
the Depart-
ment
of
Social Psychology, whereas
the
second experiment
was con-
ducted by the Department
of
Personality. Subsequently, participants were
asked whether
the
first task might have influenced performance
on the
second task. None
of the
participants believed
the
first task
to
have
affected the second.
In
sum, none
of
the participants indicated suspicion
as
to
the actual relation between the tasks.
In
fact, upon being told about
the hypothesis, many participants found
it
very hard
to
believe that
the
priming procedure might have influenced their performance
on
the gen-
eral knowledge task. After
the
debriefing, participants were thanked,
paid,
and
dismissed.
Results and Discussion
Number of correct answers. We expected that priming
would influence performance on the general knowledge task.
Specifically, we hypothesized that participants who had been
primed with the professor stereotype would outperform the other
participants, who either had been primed with the stereotype of
a secretary or had not been primed at all.
We counted the number of correct answers for each partici-
pant. The percentages were subjected to a 3 (prime: no prime
vs.
secretary prime vs. professor prime) between-subjects analy-
sis of variance (ANOVA). The predicted main effect was highly
significant, F(2, 57) = 5.64, p < .007. The percentages of
correctly answered questions are listed in Table 1. As can be
seen, participants primed with the stereotype of professors
{M = 59.5) outperformed those who were primed with the
stereotype of secretaries (Af = 46.6), F(i, 57)
10.45, p <
.003,
and the no-prime control participants (Af = 49.9), F(l,
57)
5.84, p < .02. There were no differences between partici-
pants primed with the stereotype of secretaries and no-prime
control participants, F(l, 57) = .46, p < .50.
To examine possible decay over time, we divided the overall
score in three scores. The first score represented the proportion
of correct answers on the first two pages of the booklet, the
second score represented the proportion on pages 3 and 4, and
the third score represented the proportion on the last two pages.
These proportions are listed in Table 1.
Table 1 shows that there might be some reason to assume
decay of the priming effects during the completion of the ques-
tionnaire. The differences between experimental conditions with
respect to the proportions of correct answers are more pro-
nounced for the first four pages (Score 1 and Score 2) than for
the last two pages (Score 3). To test the significance of the
decay, we compared linear and quadratic trends of the professor
prime condition with the control conditions. A downward linear
trend may be seen as an indication of immediate decay (i.e.,
decay that starts immediately after the priming procedure ends).
A quadratic trend might be indicative of delayed onset of decay
(e.g., after a few minutes). We subjected the scores to a 3
(prime: no prime vs. secretary prime vs. professor prime) X 3
(time phase: Score
1
vs. Score 2 vs. Score 3) within-participants
AN0\&. The within-subject score was analyzed in terms of
linear and quadratic trends. First, there were no interaction ef-
fects of prime with time phase, neither with the linear trend,
F(2,
57) = .80, p < .46, nor with the quadratic trend, F(2,57)
= 1.70, p < .20. Also, comparisons between the professor prime
condition and the two other conditions revealed no significant
interactions, so there is no apparent relative decay of enhanced
performance of the professor prime condition compared with
the other two conditions.
Speed.
For exploratory purposes, we measured the time par-
ticipants spent on the questionnaire. Unfortunately, the time of
the first 11 participants was not recorded because of a technical
Table 1
Experiment 1: Number of Correct Answers (Percentages)
Prime
All questions Score
1
Score
2
Score
3
No prime
Professors
Secretaries
49.9
59.5
46.4
51.3
60.0
44.4
46.1
62.1
46.4
52.3
56.4
48.4
870 DUKSTERHUIS AND VAN KNIPPENBERG
problem. Therefore, only 49 participants were included in the
analyses. The time participants spent on the task was subjected
to a 3 (Prime: no prime vs. secretary prime vs. professor prime)
between-subjects ANO\A. We obtained a main effect, F(2, 46)
3.62, p < .04. Participants primed with the stereotype of
secretaries were considerably faster (M = 6 min, 16 s) than
both participants primed with the professor stereotype (M = 8
min, 3 sec) and no-prime control participants (M = 7 min,
54 sec). These differences were reliable: for secretaries versus
professors, F(l, 46) = 5.73, p < .03; for secretaries versus
no-prime controls, F([, 46) = 4.91, p < .04. There were no
differences between participants primed with professors and no-
prime control participants, F(l, 46) 0.11, ns. It may be
conjectured that the specific content of the stereotype of secre-
taries was responsible for this speed of processing effect. Obvi-
ously, secretaries deal with a lot of paper work. It is not unlikely
that secretaries are perceived as efficient workers who manage
to handle a lot of problems in a short period of time. If this
is the case, priming this stereotype would lead participants to
complete forms and questionnaires with greater speed. However,
because we did not test these possible attributes of the stereotype
of secretaries in our pilot study, the validity of this post hoc
explanation can not be verified with the current data.
The results of Experiment 1 lend support to our prediction.
Participants who were primed with the professor stereotype, of
which intelligence and knowledgeability are central features,
showed enhanced general knowledge in comparison with parti-
cipants who were not primed and with participants who were
primed with a stereotype supposedly unrelated to intelligence
and knowledgeability. The results on the speed of completion
of the booklets provided tentative additional support for the
idea that priming a social category leads one to behave as a
(stereotypical) member of this social category (cf. Bargh,
Chen, & Burrows, 1996). In other words, the activation of a
perceptual representation leads one to behave accordingly.
Although the data on decay were not even close to statistical
significance, the conclusion that there was no decay of the ef-
fects may be premature. It is possible that the somewhat weaker
professor priming effect on the final pages was just the first
sign of decay. The mean time that participants primed with the
stereotype of professors spent on the task was about 8 min. It
is conceivable that the onset of decay was at, say, 6 min and
that it would have become plainly visible if only the task has
lasted longer. In sum, the picture is not clear. Therefore, we
attempted to give decay a better chance in Experiment 2.
Apart from the decay function of the observed effects of
stereotype activation on behavior, we also studied the relation
between the duration of the prime and the magnitude of the
resulting behavioral effect.
Experiment 2
Experiment 2 served three goals. First, we tried to replicate
the findings of Experiment 1. Second, we made a more serious
attempt to show (lack of) decay of priming effects. To do this,
we asked participants to answer more questions (60) while at
the same time we fixed the processing pace. Participants were
requested to answer questions by pushing a button on the key-
board. Every question appeared on the screen for 15 s. After 15
s, the next question appeared, regardless of whether participants
had answered the previous question. This way, all participants
answered questions for exactly 15 min. Third, we examined the
relation between strength of the prime (or, more precisely, the
length of the prime) and the duration and magnitude of the
effect. Therefore, apart from a no-prime control condition, we
used a condition in which participants were primed for 2 min
and one condition in which participants were primed for 9 min.
The priming procedure was (apart from its length) the same as
in Experiment 1. We used only the stereotype of professors in
Experiment 2.
Method
Participants and design. Fifty-eight undergraduate students of the
University of Nijmegen were randomly assigned to one of three experi-
mental conditions: a 2-min prime condition, a 9-min prime condition, or
a no-prime control condition. Participants received Dfl. 5 (approximately
U.S.
$3) for participating.
Procedure and materials. The procedure was largely the same as in
Experiment 1. Participants were again told that they would participate
in two unrelated pilot studies, one conducted by the Department of
Social Psychology and the other by the Department of Personality. Parti-
cipants were placed in individual cubicles containing an Apple Macin-
tosh (LCIII) computer. A computer program provided the instructions.
Participants in the two priming conditions were asked to imagine a
typical professor and to list the behaviors, lifestyle, and appearance
attributes of this typical professor on a blank sheet provided by the
experimenter at the beginning of the experiment. Participants were either
given 2 min or 9 min to complete this task. One third of the participants
were not primed and started to answer the questions of the general
knowledge scale immediately.
After the priming procedure ended, participants were asked, by the
computer, to complete the general knowledge scale. We used the 42
questions of the scale of Experiment 1 and added 18 new questions to
the list. These 60 questions were presented on a computer screen in
random order. This time, the choice options were labeled 1, 2, 3, and
4.
Participants had to answer by pushing the corresponding button. All
questions appeared on die screen for 15 s, whether an answer was given
or not. The screen indicated how many seconds a participant had left
to answer the question.
Funneled debriefing again indicated that participants were not suspi-
cious.
We first asked participants which departments were involved in
these experiments. This time, all participants recalled the right depart-
ments. Subsequently, we asked participants whether the first task could
have influenced the second. As in Experiment 1, no participants sus-
pected the first stage to have influenced the second. In sum, the tasks
were perceived as unrelated. After debriefing, participants were thanked,
paid, and dismissed.
Results and Discussion
Number of correct answers. The computer recorded the
number of correct answers. No answer (2.7%) was, of course,
treated as a wrong answer. The percentages of correct answers
are listed in Table 2. It can be seen that, as in Experiment 1,
priming improved performance. Furthermore, the length of the
prime influenced the magnitude of the effect.
The percentages of correct answers were subjected to a 3
(prime: no-prime vs. 2-min prime vs. 9-min prime) between-
subjects ANOVA. This analysis yielded a significant main effect,
F(2,
55) = 8.18, p < .002. Simple contrasts revealed that
THE PERCEPTION-BEHAVIOR LINK
871
Table 2
Experiment 2: Number of Correct Answers (Percentages)
Prime All questions Score 1 Score 2 Score 3
No prime
2 min
9 min
45.2
51.8
58.9
45.2
49.1
59.2
45.9
51.2
58.9
44.6
55.0
58.6
participants primed for 9 min (M = 58.9) outperformed those
who were primed for 2 min (M = 51.8), F(l, 55) = 4.09, p
< .05, and those who were not primed (M = 45.2), F(\, 55)
= 16.36, p < .001. In addition, participants primed for 2 min
answered more questions correctly than no-prime control parti-
cipants, F(l, 55) = 4.83,p < .04.
Decay. In an attempt to detect possible decay, we parti-
tioned the overall score into three different blocks, each repre-
senting the percentage of correct answers to 20 consecutive
questions (i.e., questions answered correctly in a 5-min inter-
val).
These scores are listed in Table 2. These scores were
subjected to a 3 (prime: no-prime vs. 2-min prime vs. 9-min
prime) X 3 (score for the first 5 min, score for the second 5
min, score for the last 5 min) within-participants ANOVA. The
within-subject variable was analyzed in terms of of linear and
quadratic trends. Again, no reliable Prime X Linear Trend inter-
action, F(2, 55) = 1.97, p < .15, and no reliable Prime X
Quadratic Trend interaction, F(2, 55) - .10, p < .91, were
obtained. We compared the condition in which participants were
primed for 2 min with the no-prime control condition. The Prime
X Linear Trend interaction was marginally significant, F(
1,
55)
= 2.98, p < .10. However, as can be seen in Table 2, this
interaction is caused by the fact that participants who were
primed improved their performance over the course of time.
Hence, this statistically weak effect may be interpreted as evi-
dence against decay. The Prime x Quadratic Trend interaction
was not reliable, F(\
t
55) = .09, ns. The comparison between
scores for no-prime control participants and participants primed
for 9 min revealed no significant Prime X Linear Trend interac-
tion, F(l, 55) = .03, p < .85, and no significant Prime x
Quadratic Trend interaction, F(l, 55) = .15, p < .71. In sum,
this examination of the scores indeed revealed that performance
was stable over time under all experimental conditions.
In Experiment 2, then, the results of Experiment 1 were repli-
cated. Participants primed with the stereotype of a professor
performed better on a general knowledge task than no-prime
control participants. Furthermore, the length of the prime influ-
enced the strength of the effect. Participants primed for 9 min
outperformed participants primed for 2 min. As expected, it
seems that prolonged perceptual input leads to stronger behav-
ioral effects (cf. Srull & Wyer, 1979, 1980, who found such
effects in the judgmental domain).
We did not find any evidence for decay of the priming effects
during the 15 min participants were occupied with the general
knowledge task. There is, however, one important difference
between the procedures of Experiment 1 and Experiment 2.
In Experiment 1, participants were allowed to think about the
questions for as long (or as short a time) as they wanted to,
whereas in Experiment 2, the pace was controlled by the experi-
menter. It is possible that the fixed pace in Experiment 2 some-
how interfered with the occurence of decay. Therefore, we let
the participants control their own pace in Experiment 3 (as in
Experiment 1).
Experiment 3
In Experiment 3, we tried to obtain additional evidence for
the idea that the length of the prime influences the strength of
the effect. Therefore, we again primed participants for 2 min,
for 9 min, or not at all.
Again, as in Experiment 2, we use the 60-quesrion version of
the general knowledge scale. However, we had the participants
process the task in their own pace, as in Experiment 1. This
way, we hoped to be able to assess the impact of the somewhat
rigid form of presentation used in Experiment 2 on the absence
of decay of the behavioral effects.
An important modification in Experiment 3 was the stereo-
type under consideration. In Experiments 1 and 2, we used
positive stereotypes (professors and secretaries). Corresponding
behavioral consequences, such as enhanced performance on a
general knowledge task, are positive or desirable as well. As we
argued, the behavioral effects are assumed to be unconscious
and unintentional and, therefore, not confined to only positive
effects. This argument is in line with Bargh, Chen, and Burrows
(1996),
who primed both positive and negative behavior in their
experiment. In their view and in ours, evidence for behavioral
effects that are negative or undesirable may even constitute a
stronger case for the unintentional nature of the effects, simply
because usually, people will not engage in undesirable or nega-
tive behavior on purpose. Or, in terms of performance on our
general knowledge task, nobody really wants to perform poorly
on such a task and run the risk of coming across as stupid or
dumb.
Therefore, in Experiment 3, we use the stereotype of
soccer hooligans. Soccer hooligans are associated with stupidity,
and hence, activation of this stereotype should have impaired
the performance of the participants.
Method
Participants and design. Ninety-five undergraduate students of the
University of Nijmegen were randomly assigned to one of three experi-
mental conditions: a 2-min prime condition, a 9-min prime condition, and
a no-prime control condition. Participants received Dfl. 5 (approximately
U.S.
$3) for participating.
Procedure and materials. Apart from the stereotype used, the prim-
ing procedure used in Experiment 3 was the same as in Experiment 2.
All instructions were again provided by a computer program. Here, we
primed participants with the stereotype of soccer hooligans. This choice
was based on a pilot study in which 40 participants rated social groups
on traits. Nine-point scales were used, with poles labeled soccer hooli-
gans are not at all (1) and soccer hooligans are very (9).
Soccer hooligans were rated low on intelligence (M = 2.12) and low
on knowledgeability (M =
1.98).
As in Experiment 2, participants were
primed for 2 min, for 9 min, or not at all.
We used the same 60 questions as in Experiment 2. However, as in
Experiment 1, the questions were listed in a booklet, and participants
were allowed to work on the task at their own pace. On each page, 6