Conceptual priming is a technique and process applied in psychology that engages people in a task or exposes them to stimuli. The prime consists of meanings (e.g. words) that activate associated memories (schema, stereotypes, attitudes, etc.). This process may then influence people’s performance on a subsequent task (Tulving et al., 1982). For example, one study primed consumers with words representing either ‘prestige’ US retail brands (Tiffany, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom) or ‘thrift’ brands (Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Dollar Store). In an ostensibly unrelated task, participants primed with prestige names then gave higher preference ratings to prestige as opposed to thrift product options (Chartrand et al., 2008). Conceptual priming is different from processes that do not rely on activating meanings, such as perceptual priming (priming similar forms), the mere exposure effect (repeated exposure increases liking), affective priming (subliminal exposure to stimuli evokes positive or negative emotions) (Murphy & Zajonc, 1993), or the perception-behavior link (e.g. mimicry) (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999).

The technique of conceptual priming has become a promising approach in the field of economics, particularly in the study of the economic effects of social identity (see identity economics) and social norms (Cohn & Maréchal, 2016).


Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(6), 893-910.

Chartrand, T. L., Huber, J., Shiv, B., & Tanner, R. (2008). Nonconscious goals and consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 189-201.

Cohn, A., & Maréchal, M. A. (2016). Priming in economics. Current Opinion in Psychology12, 17-21.

Murphy, S. T., & Zajonc, R. B. (1993). Affect, cognition, and awareness: Affective priming with optimal and suboptimal stimulus exposures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 723-729.

Tulving, E., Schacter, D. L., & Stark, H. A. (1982). Priming effects in word fragment completion are independent of recognition memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 8(4), 336-342.