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exposure

Mere exposure effect

The exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to prefer things because they are familiar with them. In social psychology, this effect is sometimes called the familiarity principle. In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person appears to be.

Research

In the 1960s, a series of laboratory experiments by Robert Zajonc demonstrated that simply exposing subjects to an unfamiliar stimulus led them to rate it more positively than other, similar stimuli which had not been presented. Researchers have used words, Chinese characters, paintings, pictures of faces, geometric figures, and auditory stimuli in these experiments. In one variation, subjects were shown an image on a tachistoscope for a very brief duration that could not be perceived consciously. This subliminal exposure produced the same effect, though it is important to note that subliminal effects are generally weak and unlikely to occur without controlled laboratory conditions. According to Zajonc, the exposure effect is capable of taking place without conscious cognition, and that “preferences need no inferences.”

A meta-analysis of 208 experiments found that the exposure effect is robust and reliable, with an effect size of r=0.26. This analysis found that the effect is strongest when unfamiliar stimuli are presented briefly. Mere exposure typically reaches its maximum effect within 10-20 presentations, and some studies even show that liking may decline after a longer series of exposures. For example, people generally like a song more after they have heard it a few times, but many repetitions can reduce this preference. A delay between exposure and the measurement of liking actually tends to increase the strength of the effect. Curiously, the effect is weaker on children, and for drawings and paintings as compared to other types of stimuli. One social psychology experiment showed that exposure to people we initially dislike makes us dislike them even more.

Advertising

Although the exposure effect appears to have a natural place in advertising, research has been mixed as to how effective it is at enhancing consumer attitudes toward particular companies and products. According to one study, higher levels of media exposure are associated with lower reputations for companies, even when the exposure is mostly positive. A subsequent review of the research concluded that exposure leads to ambivalence because it brings about a large number of associations, which tend to be both favorable and unfavorable. Exposure is most likely to be helpful when a company or product is new and unfamiliar to consumers.

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