Prime and prejudice: Co-occurrence in the culture as a source of automatic stereotype priming


Dr Paul Verhaeghen, School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 654 Cherry Street, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA (e-mail:


It has been argued that stereotype priming (response times are faster for stereotypical word pairs, such as black-poor, than for non-stereotypical word pairs, such as black-balmy) is partially a function of biases in the belief system inherent in the culture. In three priming experiments, we provide direct evidence for this position, showing that stereotype priming effects associated with race, gender, and age can be very well explained through objectively measured associative co-occurrence of prime and target in the culture: (a) once objective associative strength between word pairs is taken into account, stereotype priming effects disappear; (b) the relationship between response time and associative strength is identical for social primes and non-social primes. The correlation between associative-value-controlled stereotype priming and self-report measures of racism, sexism, and ageism is near zero. The racist/sexist/ageist in all of us appears to be (at least partially) a reflection of the surrounding culture.