Automaticity, Behavior Change Made Easy?

There is a concept in behavioral research known as automaticity.  The general concept is that there are behaviors that can occur without actual conscious choice, without thinking.  There is also some suggestion that we can influence selected behaviors to become automatic.  Wouldn’t it be nice if simple behaviors such as getting enough rest, eating right, and getting regular exercise could be programmed through the process of automaticity?

I have seen some research that automaticity could be induced by exposure to words.  The first experiment that I became aware of involved students who were asked to unscramble sentences, picking four of five given words.  As an example a student was given  “she, him, at, worried, always”, which could become “she worried him always”.  The students thought this was the experiment, but the real interest was observing what happened next.

They were asked to go down the hall to ask another professor for instruction.  When they got to the professor, the professor was to be talking to another student, and they were never going to stop talking to each other.  The question was how long did it take for the student who just unscrambled the sentence to interrupt.  Unknown to the students, there were two groups of sentences that were being unscrambled.  One group was given all positive words, like kind, tolerant, patient etc.  The second group was given all negative words to work with like,  impatient, unkind, angry etc.  The act of unscrambling the words was called priming.  What the researchers found was that those students who were “primed” with the negative words interrupted sooner than those students who were primed with the positive words.  This suggest that words that we are exposed to consciously can have an effect on our behavior subconsciously automatically.  Hmmm???

So this got me thinking; in a digital age that require passwords all day (like our phones) that we can set ourselves…  Why not use words that would set positive intentions.  That way as we use passwords they would be bathing our consciousness with words that would encourage positive or desired behaviors.  Repeating words such as diligent, courage, health, success, order, can’t hurt and there could be a big payoff.  In fact we should be paying closer attention to our “word diet” over the course of the day.  We may find that we are often planting words that are not helping us.  Just some food for thought : )  Time to change my passwords…


  1. Mary Moore says:

    Changing my passwords… :)

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