it’s science: priming (or: words are controlling you)

People say shit like this to me all the time: “It’s cute/funny/eccentric that you get all worked up about what people say. But words don’t REALLY do anything, do they? Wouldn’t you rather care about something that has an actual, measurable effect in the world, like the great Pacific garbage patch or corporate tax law?”

Oh, Jesus, no. No. Really. No. And anyway, words DO have measurable effects in the world, and that’s not some bullshit I just made up. It’s science!

Last time we heard from science, it said words could turn us into jerks. If you didn’t like that, I’m afraid you’re going to like this even less: Words can influence how you react to all kinds of things.

There is this idea in psychology called priming. When you see or hear a word (or a set of words like “entitled, asshole, republican, senator”), it can affect what you notice, how you treat people on the train, or how much respect you have for your senator without you ever consciously making the connection between the word(s) and your attitude/action.

Just like it’s going to be extremely difficult for you not to think about a hang-gliding giraffe right now, there isn’t much you can do to avoid being primed. Words — and the people who use them at you — have the upper hand.