In 1996 John Bargh, a social psychologist from New York University tested what is known as the ideomotor effect, whereby a thought or mental image brings about a seemingly “reflexive” or automatic response.
In an experiment he gave groups of young people word flash cards and asked them to construct simple sentences. Buried within one of the groups’ cards were word synonyms for age – bald, wrinkled, arthritis, Florida, forgetful.
When they had completed their sentences the groups were asked to walk down a corridor and sign out and then the real experiment began.
Their progress down the corridor was timed – and something unusual happened. Those who had seen words suggesting age walked more slowly.
Just the merest suggestion of age at an unconscious level, led to a reflexive response – made them display the behaviour of the elderly. It is called the Florida effect.
It indicates the way language can influence our behaviour and that maybe, we are not always acting as consciously as we think.