The term priming refers to the tendency of a stimulus to influence the response to a later stimulus. That’s a fancy way of saying that just being aware of something can totally change our thinking.
A post at MindHacks reviews an article from New Scientist on the topic:
The psychology of crowds is challenging the idea that people become an ‘unruly mob’ in large numbers. In fact, recent research shows that people tend to cooperate and quickly achieve an altruistic and bonded group identity when in large numbers. This partly relies on the fact that our group identity is fluid, as demonstrated by an elegant experiment.
How do you prove that large groups are influenced by psychological priming? Perhaps hire an actor to fake an injury outside a sports stadium and change his shirt from a neutral color to the jersey of either the home or rival team. What can be found is that the crowd tends to help people with whom they identify. Their sense of belonging and ultimate actions can be swayed by first reminding them whether they are supporters of a particular team or just fans of the sport in general.
Businesses can take advantage of this phenomenon by priming employees. Suggesting everyone wear the company t-shirt might be a little silly, but asking stakeholders to share ways to improve work will help establish a common sense of purpose. Putting control over methodology into employee hands will “prime the pump” to do good work. When an emergency arises, members of a committed, passionate team will work together to resolve the crisis and learn the key lessons from the incident. Groups at the office can be smarter, but only if we remind them of their cohesion before innovation is required.