Priming and Pedagogy

A new year’s wander through a machine learning research paper led me down a really interesting rabbit role. Somewhere down the hole, I found a reference and have since been reading Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. The book was referenced by several AI/ML researchers, which is what got me started there.

Chapter 4, titled The Associated Machine, is an interesting example of this book. It talks about the psychological effect of priming, and then goes on to illustrate it in the book with simple examples you can practically do while you’re reading the chapter. That kind of example brings the concept home, makes it super concrete and far easier to understand. That’s a delightful mechanism to find in a book where you’re reading to learn.

That chapter, both its content and how it presented the topic, spurred a wacky question in my head:

Are there priming techniques that could be used in technical documentation, either subtly or directly, that makes it easier for the reader to read and retain the content?

I don’t know if there is such a thing. From the examples in the book, I can see where there’s definitely priming that could be done that could work against taking up details, but I’m not coming up an inverse. The closest I could imagine was a relatively simple predictive puzzle of some sort, just something to get you in a puzzle-solving frame of mind, and then tackling the learning. Of course, if you’re one that hates puzzles that’s is likely going to “crash and burn” as a technique.

I’ve no grand conclusions, only more questions at this stage. Although I do highly recommend the book if you’re interested in the processes of cognition, associating, and how they relate to our everyday brain capabilities.

Published by heckj

Joe has broad software engineering development and management experience, from startups to large companies. Joe works on projects ranging from mobile to multi-cloud distributed systems, has set up and led engineering teams and processes, as well as managing and running services. Joe also contributes and collaborates with a wide variety of open source projects, and writes online at

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