Florida effect

Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi
5 min readMar 14, 2020

What effect can induce on us the constant media bombardment we are subjected to in this moment of sanitary emergency? In addition to the coronavirus contagion, which is transmitted by air, would it not be wise to also deal with such more subtle contagion, which is transmitted by ether, whose nature is certainly no less insidious?

The mere fact of being continuously exposed to certain words (or images) is capable of producing in us behavioral changes, even relevant ones, and this without necessarily being aware of it. This “ideomotor” effect is known by the name of “Florida effect”, due to a famous experiment conducted in the nineties by psychologist John Bargh and collaborators.

During the experiment, they asked students to form completed four-word sentences from incoherent five-word sentences. Some of these words evoked old age, such as “Florida” (the place where many American retirees move), “bald”, “forgetful”, “gray”, etc. Once the task was finished, students were asked to go to another room to carry out a second experiment. To do this, they had to go through a long corridor. The researchers, without being noticed by the students, then calculated the time it took the students to travel from one end of the corridor to the other. They discovered in this way that those who had composed sentences from words that evoked old age moved on average much more slowly than those belonging to a reference sample, who had received words without any correspondence with old age. It was then discovered through further experiments that this ideomotor effect also works in the opposite direction. For example, if for a while we walk slowly, for example at a third of the normal pace, we will become much more efficient in identifying words related to old age in a text.

These effects, called “priming,” are now well studied and can take on countless forms. For those interested in this topic I can only recommend the book by the Nobel Prize winner for economics Daniel Kahneman, entitled “Thinking, Fast and Slow “ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York).

Now, to return to the particular situation we are experiencing at the moment, we can ask ourselves: what effect is it having on our mental, and therefore on our behaviors, to let ourselves be continuously “infected” by the same news, which like a lullaby always repeat to us the same things, on the…

Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi

Physicist, writer, editor, researcher and self-researcher. For more info: www.massimilianosassolidebianchi.ch