Effect Of Mere Exposure: What It Is And How It Is Expressed In Psychology

This studied effect explains that the familiarity of something leads us to appreciate it favorably.

Mere exposure effect

Has it ever happened to you that something (for example, a song) you liked more and more the more you listened to it? Or even with someone? This has an explanation according to social psychology; This is the so-called Mere Exposure Effect.

The Mere Exposure Effect was discovered by Robert Boleslaw Zajonc, an American social psychologist. This effect is that the more we expose ourselves to something, the more we like it. However, some authors suggest that this only occurs when the initial attitude towards the stimulus or object is favorable.

In this article we will know the origin of this effect, some of the conditions that will influence its occurrence and possible causes of its appearance.

The effect of mere exposure

The Effect of Mere Exposure is a psychological phenomenon that consists in that our liking for a certain stimulus or person increases as we expose ourselves to it more, that is, the more we expose ourselves, the more we like it. This effect is typical of social psychology, which sometimes also calls it the “familiarity principle.

The mere exposure effect was initially described by RB Zajonc (1968); Zajonc presented his finding, along with others, in a work dedicated to changing attitudes, in which he defended that attitudes are formed by the frequency with which we are exposed to a stimulus.

The effect of the mere exposure of Zajonc facilitated new avenues of investigation within the experimental psychology of emotion.

The works of RB Zajonc

Based on his work on the Effect of Mere Exposure, Zajonc supports the hypothesis that “the mere repeated exposure of a subject to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the positive attitude towards this stimulus to increase.” This effect appears even when the stimulating conditions of presentation prevent its conscious identification.

Zajonc’s hypothesis implied a challenge to the theoretical positions of the moment (1960s), and affirmed that attitudes could be formed simply from the frequency with which a stimulus is presented.

In any case, social psychology researchers, at that time, already intuited that the more familiar we are with a stimulus, the more likely it is that our attitude towards it is positive or favorable.

Experimental procedure

To study the Effect of Mere Exposure in an experimental way, the subjects were exposed to our affective stimuli for very short times; After this presentation, the subject was shown various new stimuli with similar characteristics, among which the stimuli exposed during the first phase were interspersed.

The Effect of Mere Exposure became evident when the subject made significantly more positive evaluations of the initially exposed objects, than of the set of stimuli that were presented for the first time in the final evaluation phase.

Factors that determine it

There are several factors that determine the Effect of Mere Exposure:

1. Type of stimulus

The effect is favorably induced with stimuli of all kinds: words, images, facial expressions, ideograms, polygons, etc.

However, if abstract figures are used exclusively, it does not occur, or if it occurs, it is in a subtle way.

2. Complexity of stimuli

The effect is greater with complex stimuli than simple ones; This phenomenon has been demonstrated in various studies.

3. Exhibition number

The greater the number of exposures, the greater the effect; however, it is not a linear effect; after 10 or 20 exposures, the changes that occur are minor.

To illustrate this, Zajonc (1972) alluded to a logarithmic relationship that increases until reaching a “ceiling effect”. Other researchers refer to a relationship that can be represented as an inverted U shape.

4. Exposure sequence

The Effect of Mere Exposure will vary depending on whether the stimuli used are the same or if they vary; Although few studies have been done on this and the results are diverse, it is known that studies that have used heterogeneous (diverse) stimuli to produce the effect of mere exposure provide less robust results.

5. Duration of exposure

There are few studies that have compared the effect that the duration of the stimulus has in producing the Effect of Mere Exposure. One specific author, Hamid (1973), used an inverted U to explain the relationship between duration and the effect obtained, based on his studies.

6. Recognition of stimuli

The fact that the stimulus is familiar to the person (that is, that the stimulus is “recognized”) is not necessary for the Mere Exposure Effect to occur, and this has been shown by various studies. There are even studies that suggest that recognition or familiarity reduces the effect.

7. Interval between exposure and testing

Here there is disparity of opinions and results ; While there are some studies that find no changes in relation to whether the interval between test and exposure is a few minutes or several weeks, other studies affirm that an increase in the Effect of Mere Exposure occurs when the test phase is delayed after the initial exposure.

Causes of effect

In more current studies, Zajonc (2000) believes that the Effect of Mere Exposure is not mediated by subjective factors (for example, by the familiarity of the stimulus, as we have commented), but rather by the “objective history of exposures”; in fact, the effect of mere exposure is more consistent under subliminal conditions. The author proposes the possibility that the effect may be mediated by some type of classical conditioning.

Thus, in the Mere Exposure Effect, repeated exposure to certain stimuli could be understood as a conditioned stimulus (CS), while the response preference would be the conditioned response (CR). This CR is analogous to the unconditioned response (IR), which is elicited by the tendency toward innate exploration.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bargh, JA (2001). The Psychology of the Mere. In JA Bargh and DK Apsley (Eds.), Unraveling the complexities of social life (pp. 25-37). Washington, DC: American Psychology Association.
  • Martínez, F., Sánchez and Campoy, G. (2003). Effect of mere exposure with presentations below the target threshold. Electronic Magazine of Motivation and Emotion, 6 (14-15).
  • Zajonc, RB (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9 (2), 1-27.
  • Zajonc, RB (2000). Feeling and thinking: Closing the debate over the independence of affect. In JP Forgas (Ed.) Feeling and thinking: The role of affect in social cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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