Priming: an appetizer for the mind

Posted on August 29, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

First I please let me apologize to everyone who has been waiting for a new post. I had some computer troubles but maybe it’s OK now.

Next, I want to say thank you very much to everyone who joined the first English workshop in Harajuku. Everybody was very nice, and good at sharing their opinions and asking good questions.

For me one of the most interesting parts of the workshop was the discussion about “topic”. I said that my feeling was that English changed subjects more quickly and easily than Japanese, and someone quickly pointed out that it probably depends on the person. I agreed, and we decided to try an experiment.

We sat in a circle and tried to have a very free ranging conversation. I mentioned the phrase “that reminds me”, and asked everyone to just say anything that came to mind. Everyone did a very good job of keeping the conversation moving, with very little common topic. I was impressed. The conversation felt a little bit different than a conversation between native speakers though. I think there was more respectful space than native speakers usually have. People politely waited for the speaker to finish speaking and then introduced their own topic. I thought everyone in the group showed that they could enjoy using the skill of “that reminds me” thinking comfortably.

Now I want to share a small secret. The secret is about something called priming.

In the workshop there was one clear example of priming. We moved our chairs into a circle, and at first we were a little too close together. I noticed people become nervous so I asked to move the chairs a little bit closer (of course that was VERY uncomfortable) then we opened up the circle a little wider. But the energy (atmosphere? feeling?) in the circle was still uncomfortable so I tried an exercise in priming…

An appetizer is a small dish served before a main course. The purpose of the small dish is to prepare your palate, to get your body ready for the food that is coming next.

Priming is a way of preparing someone’s mind for something.

For example, when students in an experiment smelled cleaning liquid they were much more likely to clean up after eating a cookie than students who didn’t smell the cleaning liquid.

In the circle in the workshop I asked a question like “What is the most relaxing place you have been?” and the atmosphere changed very quickly.

For the first half of the workshop I read some ideas about cultural differences and we talked about them. I was hoping to prime the participants to think about language and culture in a certain way. My goal was to create an atmosphere where people could become more comfortable and confident thinking like native speakers.

I don’t know how successful I was with my goals, but I was very happy about the conversation, participation and flexibility of the participants.

I hope you will come next time when we explore rapport, building a bridge between you and the person you want to share your feelings, opinions or information with.


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