Priming is a subconscious form of memory. It occurs when an environmental cue, such as a picture of Albert Einstein, elicits a memory or representation in your mind before carrying out a task, such as a science test. In this example it is very likely that you would have performed better in the test after seeing the picture than if you had not.
Extensive research has been carried out on priming, stemming from the work of Meyer and Schvaneveldt in the 1970s. And there is an abundance of literature available on the subject, however from a creative (and not very science savvy) point of view, I would suggest reading ‘Nudge’ and ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. Neither book talks solely about the subject of priming, but both cover it in broad detail and both are easy to understand without any prior knowledge.
There’s no way I could cover everything in a single blog post, but for me the most important primes are for creativity and productivity. So with that in mind I’m going to focus on what I feel is the most achievable: Nature.
We all know the health benefits of nature, giving your body time to relax and unwind. But recent studies have shown that a break from the computer screen (or any screen for that matter) can have huge benefits for our creativity. A study by David L. Strayer, Ruth Ann Atchley and Paul Atchley shows how much we can be influenced by nature. To cut a long story short: a group of test subjects sent on a 4–6 day hike (and cut off from technology) were 50% more creative in an RAT test than those that hadn’t had the ‘nature benefit’. These tests aren’t perfect, but it’s hard to ignore such a big difference in results*.
Technology is, undoubtedly a massive part of our lives, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets a bit funny about leaving my phone at home. Luckily you don’t need to disappear off for days at a time to gain some benefit, Strayer says “…think of it as a dose-response effect… The bigger the dose, the bigger the benefit.”
So for those of you who just can’t tear yourselves away from your screens, what can you do? I wrote earlier about the image of Albert Einstein and how it could improve your science test results. But it doesn’t stop there. Seeing a picture of a sports legend will make you work harder at the gym (and we could all do with that!) With this in mind, what imagery could influence creativity? It goes without saying that if nature can have such a substantial effect, then images of nature will have some impact as well. Desktop backgrounds, pictures on the walls, plants around the office are all examples of how we can bring nature into our working environment. It must be said, however that this is a pretty tame substitute for the real thing. So if you find yourself with a spare 20 minutes go and have a walk round the park. Even if you don’t feel more creative it’s a good way to spend your lunch break.