Identity Priming
Increasing the saliency of an individual’s gender, race or other group identity.

Identity priming causes individual behavior to conform more closely to the norms of the primed identity (Shih, et al., 1999; Benjamin, Choi & Fisher, 2010). Priming capitalizes on the multiple social identities an individual has (e.g. wife, mother, daughter, etc.), recognizing that choices may be different, even conflicting, depending on which identity is paramount at the time of a decision. As previously mentioned, Shih et al. (1999) show that Asian women’s performance on quantitative tasks is higher when their Asian identity is primed, as opposed to when their female identity is primed, suggesting that identity priming could be harnessed to promote healthier behaviors and more beneficial choices.

Priming has not been widely tested in the RH context, but it may be useful because while women are often pressed to conform to cultural or social norms, they also face conflicting incentives as mothers, wives, or daughters.

  • For example, a woman’s role as a wife may push her to conform to family size expectations, with the result that she decides not limit the number of children she will have. On the other hand, her role as a mother might motivate her to restrict family size, in order to have sufficient resources to devote to each child’s growth and education.

Thus, it is important to realize that the impact of a program may have differing impacts on women, depending on which identity is made salient through the program’s implementation. Identity priming can also have unintended effects, and must be designed carefully. With some reproductive health decisions—including those which are infrequent (like delivery in a facility) or those with outsized and fatal consequences (like unsafe abortion or HIV infection)—it may not advisable to test highly uncertain interventions.

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