A Prime Jolt

Priming is a memory effect in which previous exposure to certain words or ideas influences subsequent responses to other things. It has important implications for managers and trainers. This jolt enables the participants to experience the effect of priming.


The participants correct spelling errors in a set of related words. Later, they think of a five-letter word whose first and last letters are given. Their choice of the word is influenced by the earlier words they corrected.


To explore the effects of priming in daily life.

Training Topics

  • Influencing
  • Anchoring
  • Positive psychology
  • Feedback


Minimum: 1

Maximum: Any number

Best: 5 to 30


3 minutes for the activity

5 minutes for debriefing

Supplies and Equipment

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Timer
  • Whistle


Mar jolt bed sleep.jpg

Write a list of misspelled words. Copy these words on a sheet of flip chart paper:











Display the list of words. Explain to the participants that you frequently misspell words when you type on a smart phone. Ask the participants to look at the misspelled words and figure out the correct words. Suggest a 1-minute time limit. Blow the whistle at the end of the minute.

Ask the participants to think of a five-letter word. Write this on a sheet of flip chart paper:

S __ __ __ P

Tell the participants to mentally fill in the blanks to come up with a five-letter word that begins with an “S” and ends with a “P”. Suggest a 15-second time limit.

Present a list of alternative responses. Blow the whistle at the end of 15 seconds. Explain that the participants could have thought of any one of several five-letter words that begin with an “S” and end with a “P”. Rattle off sample words like scrap, stamp, steep, strip, scalp, setup, sharp, snoop, scamp, scoop, sheep, stomp, and sweep.


Identify the number of “sleep” responses. Ask the participants to raise their hand if they came up with the word sleep. Invite the participants to find the possible causes for the popularity of this particular word. Link sleep to the earlier misspelled words.

Explain the concept of priming. Tell the participants that previous memories influence their responses to a new task. This effect is called priming.

Discuss everyday examples of priming. Give some samples:

  • At the beginning of a training session, if a trainer requests the participants to help improve the session because it is in a prototype stage, the participants are primed to expect errors.
  • At the end of a training session, when a trainer asks for feedback, if the first two or three participants give negative comments, the others are primed to be equally negative.

Invite the participants to contribute their own everyday examples.

Discuss how to avoid negative priming and increase positive priming. Ask the participants to brainstorm strategies for avoiding the negative effects and increasing the positive effects of priming.

Discuss how some other word could have been primed. Ask the participants to come up with a set of misspelled words that would prime the word SHARP when asked the same fill-in the blank question.

Learning Points

  • We unconsciously prime people with our introductions, instructions, and comments.
  • We can avoid negative priming and increase positive priming by being mindful of what we say and do.


You don’t want to use a flip chart. Just prepare a slide with the misspelled words and another slide with the five-letter word with blanks.

Not too many participants come up with the word sleep? Explain to the participants that the effects of priming do not always take place. Suggest that in previous studies most participants came up with the word sleep. Proceed with your debriefing.