What Is The Mere Exposure Effect?

The simple act of repeatedly exposing oneself to a particular stimulus makes it a lot more pleasurable. This is what the unique mere exposure effect is all about.
What is the mere exposure effect?

Have you ever noticed that you started to like that song you used to hate because you had to listen to it repeatedly? Have you ever noticed that the more time you spend with a person, the more pleasant he or she becomes? This is the mere exposure effect, which is currently very relevant in the study of human preferences.

Also known as the familiarity principle, this effect explains why our response to a new stimulus becomes more positive when we are repeatedly exposed to it.

In short, it reflects our affinity for situations, people or objects that are familiar to us. But what factors influence the appearance of this phenomenon? Read on to discover more about how it works.

Two women are talking with a cup of coffee in their hands

The effect of mere exposure in research

Robert Zajonc is one of the authors who has studied this particular psychological effect. Since his first research in 1976, he proved the presence of this preference for stimuli of a very different nature.

Words, sounds, pictures of faces… In all cases, the subjects seem to prefer those they are most familiar with.

Researchers conducted a study to test the influence of this effect on food preferences. To this end, they gave a group of students different tropical juices that they had not known until then.

Some tried them five times, others ten, and others fifteen. When asked which ones they liked best, there was a clear tendency to rate those they drank the most as more positively.

Other scientists came to similar results in research on interpersonal attraction. The more often you see someone, the more sympathetic you will be to that person and the more you will enjoy their presence.

An unconscious phenomenon

However, one of the most interesting aspects of this effect is that it is not necessary for the person to perceive familiarity with the stimuli. In addition, the effect appears to be enhanced under subliminal conditions.

Zajonc conducted a study in which he showed the participants various images of Chinese characters. The exposure time of each symbol was so short that the observers could not make out what they were seeing.

The researchers told the subjects that the signs represented adjectives and asked them to rate whether they had positive or negative connotations. Invariably, the participants in the test group scored the symbols they had already seen higher.

It is clear that brands also take the effect of the mere exposure effect into account in their advertising campaigns. Familiarity with a logo, slogan or company image can lead you to choose that particular product.

This mental way of working would explain why when you go to a new city you are more likely to go to the franchises you already know, despite your desire to explore the local market.

A drawing of a shopping cart with a brain in the background

What causes the mere exposure effect?

The author of the first known study on this phenomenon was Fechner. This German psychologist, the father of a number of current psychophysical theories, provides an explanation for this effect. People tend to react anxiously to new elements.

However, this “novelty phobia” disappears as one repeatedly exposes oneself to the no longer novel stimuli. This natural tendency to be suspicious of the unknown even becomes a pleasant feeling of familiarity when you are more in touch with such an element.

However, you should keep in mind that you may become bored if the repeated exposure to the stimulus becomes excessive. Saturation is therefore a condition that limits the impact of this effect. If you eat the same thing every day, you will eventually hate it. If you watch the same movie every day, it will lose its charm.

Therefore, this principle of familiarity is at the root of many of your preferences. Even if you are not aware of it. Regardless of whether you are more or less in the mood for adventure and risk, various decisions you make on a daily basis are influenced by this effect.

The products you buy, the places you go, and the people you like can all be influenced by this principle. That’s why it’s helpful to be aware of how it affects your mind.

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