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From Bye to Buy: Homophones as a Phonological Route to Priming

Derick F. Davis and Paul M. Herr
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 40, No. 6 (April 2014), pp. 1063-1077
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.1086/673960
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Page Count: 15
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From Bye to Buy: Homophones as a Phonological Route to Priming
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Words prime semantic and conceptually related associates and concepts. This article documents a novel route of priming disparate meanings relevant to consumer behaviors. Reading processes use word sound, not spelling, to activate word meaning in memory. Reading a homophone (e.g., “bye”)—a word with identical pronunciation as another word but with different spelling and meaning—activates meanings and concepts related to the complementary homophone (e.g., “buy”). Homophone priming occurs when a secondary process fails to suppress activated meanings associated with the complementary homophone, which may influence meaning-relevant consumer behaviors downstream. Two experiments (with replications) demonstrate this effect occurs when consumers experience diminished cognitive resources, which reduces the ability to suppress complementary homophone meanings. This research identifies word sound as an associative link between otherwise unrelated concepts that can result in priming of judgments and behavior. Importantly, these results are difficult to predict from a purely semantic or associative priming perspective.

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