Pick a card, any card. It’s a staple of traditional magic tricks. But if you choose the 3 of diamonds, chances are you may have been “primed” by the magician to pick that card without even being aware of it. That’s because certain subtle verbal and gestural cues can unconsciously influence decisionmaking, according to a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
There is a certain degree of well-founded skepticism surrounding studies of visual or verbal priming. There was, for instance, a famous “experiment” in 1957 by a market researcher named James McDonald Vicary, involving subliminal advertising. Vicary claimed to have conducted an experiment in which some 45,000 people attending screenings of the