One of the earliest experimental demonstrations of the impact of labelling took place in a class of third graders in Iowa, conducted by a teacher named Jane Elliot. Jane was compelled by the recent assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to teach her children about the harms of racism and split her class based on eye colour with eye opening results.
Today we have a better understanding of the power of labels, unfortunately though there are many who don’t appreciate that power, chasing to label certain groups “victims” or “less intelligent” and acting surprised when these populations fulfill that expectation.
“Drunk thank pink” is an example of how something as simple a shade of pink can effect the mood of a person due to how we have categorised that colour in our mind. Where this becomes more important is when it effects those split second decisions which can result in an unnecessary death. An article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science by Keith B. Payne showed how race can influence the perception of an object as a weapon.
Another place where the function of priming meets the real world is in what is known as the “halo effect”. This describes the assumption of ambiguous information based on more concrete information. This could describe a scenario is which a teacher attributes more intelligence to a child with a “posh” accent than to another child with the same IQ but a “broader” accent. When this judgement has a negative connotation it will be referred to as the “horn effect”. The “Hannah study” exemplified this with Hannah answering questions on a study and subjects were asked how smart they though she was. If it was heavily implied through imagery that Hannah attended a rich school and was middle / upper class she was ranked as more intelligent than if it seemed she was from a poorer background and attended a less prestigious institution.
It is clear that labels and categorisation have implications on our subconscious processing of what we experience. This can be as benign as certain cultures having an extra word for a colour which means they see it more easily than another culture, or as important as how harshly a criminal is punished based on their skin colour. Humans are biased in a vast number of ways, but the more we recognise them the better we can be at consciously subverting and working against them where necessary, or within them when beneficial.