“Repetition helps us learn and react both quicker and easier”

The more we repeat something, the easier we process, remember and act on it. Repetition simply smoothens our neural pathways. Repetition is also called ‘direct priming’ since each repetition also ‘primes’ later experiences, leading to quicker and more intense reactions (or slower in the rare case of negative priming).

There are two direct priming effects. First, there is a very brief ‘lexical effect’: each repetition activates it’s representation in our brain. Then that activation slowly ‘fades away’. This way, the experience remains ‘primed’ during the fading period (usually a few seconds), leading to quicker reactions when it is repeated.

The second effect is a long-term effect: this is where the neural pathways in our brain are smoothened. This long-term effect works especially for new ‘stimuli’ (since highly familiar ones already acquired a highway in our brain).

Scientific research example:

Imagine you’re given a list with strings of letters. Your job is to indicate whether each string is a word or a non-word (as quickly as possible). Would it help if you were allowed to repeat the list beforehand?

Well, of course, but Kenneth & Chris (1984) found that this repetition effect depends on how familiar you are with each specific word… The less familiar you are with a word, the more it helps to repeat it beforehand (this is called the ‘frequency attenuation effect’ of repetition).

Furthermore, if you want a long-term repetition effect, Kenneth & Chris found that it only works if you not only read the list, but thoroughly practice the word/non-word answers.

Online Persuasion tips:

  • For each link or button analyse what your customer will see or do the first seconds after he clicks, and subtly prime this near the specific links.
  • Use the exact same words in your texts across pages and in your links and buttons.
  • Use one consistent visual link and button-format.
  • Display cross-sell combinations as soon as you know which product someone intends to buy.
  • Show existing customers what they bought before (if you want them to buy again).
  • The same accounts for other desired behaviors: they previously looked at a product, used it, rated it, etc. (if you want them to look, use, rate, etc.).
  • Do the same with the behavior of others (show others buying / using the product).

Further reading on the repetition and direct priming:

  • Forster, Kenneth I; Chris Davis (1984). “Repetition Priming and Frequency Attenuation”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 10 (4)
  • Priming on Wikipedia