Graeme Newell

Mere Exposure Effect

The mere exposure effect is a powerful preference for things merely because we have seen them before. Words, tunes, people, shapes, and almost everything seems more soothing to us when we’ve seen it before.

And it’s not just positive things that influence us. Even if we have a neutral reaction, we tend to like those things more. However, if you dislike something the first time you encounter it, you’re more unlikely to change your mind after repeat exposure.

In one interesting study, researchers chose four different students to attend college classes throughout the semester. One student never attended, one attended five times, one attended ten times, and the last student attended fifteen times. The students were careful never to interact with other students in the class. They just sat and observed the teacher.

At the end of the class, the other students in the class were shown pictures of each of the test-study students. The other students were then asked to rate the test-study students on several different characteristics such as physical attractiveness and intelligence.

Despite the fact that the real students never interacted with any of the test-study students, the real students gave the highest scores to the test-study students they had seen 15 times.