Don’t look at the signs! (Ten ways to use brain based resarch in training #3)

 If you’ve ever seen anything with Derren Brown you will have come across the concept of priming, which suggests that things in the environment of which we are unaware can cause us to behave in particular ways.  There are lots of excellent studies on the topic but this one is particularly about prohibitive language and signs.

How often have you written ‘Don’t hesitate to contact me’ or told someone ‘Don’t forget to …’

What are you really saying?  People struggle to process a negative (it makes more work for the brain) and this piece of research indicates that it may actually increase the behaviour you are trying to avoid.

If you want the full paper then you can read it here (Warning: it’s dense).  Or carry on reading and I’ll precis it for you.

In this study they tested 2 groups of smokers; both of whom were asked to look at photos and decide whether they were taken by amateur or professional photographers.  What they didn’t know was that the photos either had inconspicous ‘No Smoking’ signs or the signs were edited out.  The presence of the ‘No smoking’ sign, whether people noticed it or not, significantly increased the tendency to ‘approach’ smoking-related stimuli.  Whilst the researchers stress they need to do more real world research it seemed the no smoking sign was more likely to cause smoking than having no signs.

Why is this important for you?

When giving instructions tell people what you want them to do rather than what you’re trying to avoid.

Check with yourself: if you’re prohibiting things are you potentially increasing the behaviours you are trying to eliminate?

What unconscious messages may people be seeing that are in direct opposition to what they need to learn.

How could you constructively use priming to deliver key messages in training?

Get more ideas on priming brains at ‘How to be Brain Friendly Trainer’ on 22nd April 2013. and Book before 28th Feb to receive a free kindle pre-loaded with brain friendly books.