The Mere Exposure Effect

27.06.2016 |

Episode #10 of the course A quick introduction to social psychology by Andy Luttrell


The Psychology

You’ve probably had the experience of hearing a new song and not caring for it much at first, but after hearing it a few times, you end up really enjoying it, humming it when you least expect to.

This is one example of the mere exposure effect. Basically, the more you see or hear something, the more you like it. In other words, we tend to like things more when they’re familiar to us (even if they’re familiar for a silly reason).


The Evidence

One of my favorite illustrations of this effect comes from a study where researchers arranged for four different women (of similar appearance) to attend a college class a certain number of times throughout the semester.

One of these women didn’t actually attend at all, one attended five times, one attended ten times, and the last woman attended fifteen times. These women didn’t interact with the students at all; they just sat in on the lecture.

At the end of the semester, the students in the class saw pictures of each of the women and rated them on several scales, like physical attractiveness. Despite never having interacted with these women, the students showed a clear mere exposure effect. That is, they evaluated the woman they had seen 15 times much more positively than the woman they hadn’t seen at all.

What’s super interesting is that the mere exposure effect is even stronger when the words or pictures are repeatedly presented subliminally. When researchers deliberately expose people to something on a subconscious level, the exposure still makes people like it more (even though they have no idea that they saw it a bunch of times before).

In one study, researchers conducted three slightly different versions of the same experiment. In the first version, people were doing an activity on a computer, and a photo of a person (let’s call him “Fred”) was presented 5 times at a speed of just 4 milliseconds (i.e., people didn’t notice that they saw a photo). In the second version, everything was the same, except the photo that was quickly presented was of a different person (let’s call him “Dave”). In the third version, everything seemed the same except, there were no photos shown to the participants—quickly or not.

The results reveal the power of subliminal exposure. People tended to like a person more if they had seen his face a few times before—even if they were flashed so quickly that they couldn’t even notice the face on the screen.

Overall, these studies show how becoming familiar with something or someone can be enough to make us like that thing or person more. So I always tell people that it’s worth showing up to social events—it can be a simple way to become a familiar (and likable) face.

To see how mere exposure can make you more persuasive, check out: “How Sitting Quietly Can Increase Your Influence.”


“Download the Free PDF: 5 Amazing Psychology Experiments



Recommended book

“The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” by Jonathan Haidt


Share with friends