PSY322-Mere Exposure Effect

From PsychWiki - A Collaborative Psychology Wiki

Revision as of 22:49, 10 October 2010 by Doug (Talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search

The mere exposure effect is the development of an emotional preference for previously unfamiliar material due to frequent exposure to that material; that is, subjects express greater liking for familiar stimuli than for unfamiliar stimuli (Zajonc 1980). The mere-exposure effect was originally documented by Zajonc (1968) and has been examined in well over two hundred experiments since then. The effect simply results from exposure to a stimulus, even without conscious deliberation. Because of this exposure, subjects show a preference for the previously exposed stimuli. It is a psychological phenomenon in which people have a tendency to develop a liking for things merely because they are familiar with them. The more exposure we have to a stimulus, the more we are apt to like it. We see certain people a lot, and the more familiar they become, the more friendship blooms (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2007). Of course, if the person is an obnoxious jerk, then, not surprisingly, the more exposure you have, the greater your dislike (Swap, 1977). The effect also appears to be the greatest when a relatively small numbers of exposures are used (Stang & O'Connell, 1974). But in general if there are no negative qualities, familiarity will create attraction. One such illustration is when Leon Festinger, Stanley Schachter, and Kurt Back (1950) tracked friendship formation among couples in various apartment buildings. The residents had been assigned to their apartments at random and nearly all of them were strangers when they moved in. The researchers asked the residents to name their three closest friends in the entire housing building. Sixty five percent of the friends mentioned lived in the same building, 41 percent of the next-door neighbors indicated they were close friends, and 22 percent of those who lived two doors apart indicated that they were close friends.

The mere exposure effect involves memory of the previously exposed stimuli, it is plausible that differences in the memory state of the stimuli could modulate the effect. Given that cognitive processes could modulate the mere exposure effect, one plausible influence is selective attention. Attending or ignoring a stimulus results in different states of memory representation for that stimulus (Yagi et al., 2009). Implicit memory is assessed by tasks that do not explicitly instruct subjects to recall past events and experiences. Explicit memory, on the other hand, does require the ability to consciously recollect past experiences. Although there is no explicit reference to a past event, the subject’s performance on implicit tasks is facilitated by prior exposure due to a phenomenon referred to as priming (Marie et al., 2001). Several studies suggest that performance by people with schizophrenia on verbal tasks demonstrated normal implicit memory but impaired explicit memory (Marie et al., 2001).

Materials that are preferred have acquired an emotional association due to priming, although the mere 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 (Yagi et al., 2009). As paradoxical as it may seem 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 (Yagi et al., 2009). Exposure is most likely to be helpful when a company or product is new and unfamiliar to consumers. Subjectively, the stimulus pops out, thus the less aware the participant is of the stimulus's previous exposure, the greater the extent of the obtained mere exposure effect should be because the participant who remembers the stimulus will be more likely to attribute this fluency to familiarity rather than to likeability (Winograd et al., 1999).

Example – Research

A study was conducted by Marie et al., (2001) titled, “The Mere Exposure Effect in Patients with Schizophrenia” which investigated the development of an emotional preference for previously unfamiliar material because of frequent exposure to that material (Marie et al., 2001). This study compared the performance of subjects with schizophrenia to that of normal control subjects on preference and recognition tasks. An important feature of this study was that the only difference between the preference (implicit memory) and recognition (explicit memory) tasks was that subjects were asked to state which of the two stimuli they liked better or had seen previously.

Their hypothesis was subjects with schizophrenia would have an intact performance on the implicit memory task but impaired performance on the explicit memory task. The subjects were 20 chronically ill male patients with schizophrenia and 21 normal males (controls) with a mean age of 42 years. In addition the patients with schizophrenia were assessed as competent to give informed consent for the study and to complete the study tasks. The control group did not significantly differ from the subjects with schizophrenia in age, childhood and socioeconomic status. The results indicated that both the subjects with schizophrenia and normal controls developed a preference for novel material because of their prior exposure to that material. The subjects with schizophrenia demonstrated the mere exposure effect to the same extent as the controlled participants, despite impaired recognition for the same stimuli. Suggesting that preference formation based upon prior exposure, a measure of implicit memory is intact in schizophrenia patients. Schizophrenia patients also demonstrated a normal preference for both verbal and visual materials seen earlier relative to novel materials.

Example - Real-Life

In a recent news story from The Los Angeles Times entitled “At least seven redhaired students were victims of ginger attacks” (Winton, 2009). According to Richard Winton, four redhaired girls and three boys were victims of the so called “Kick a Ginger Day.” Authorities say that the attacks occurred at a Calabasas middle school where the investigation began after a 12 year old redheaded boy was sent to the school nurse due to bruises and scratches after being kicked by students. The article reports that the assailants were seventh and eight graders at the school, whom pushed, shoved and intimidated the seven redhaired students (Winton, 2009). Investigators believe that the attacks were inspired by the television show “South Park.” The episode focused on racial prejudices on gingers which was ignited after one character declared that people with red hair, light skin and freckles have no souls and suffer from a disease coined “Gingerivitis.” The term “ginger” was the label given to the people with red hair, freckles and light skin.

Research on the mere exposure effect may help explain this event. For example the mere exposure to the television show “South Park” not only primed the young watchers but it made them develop an emotional preference for the show due to their frequent exposure to the stimuli. A stimulus can be a variety of things, a face, a symbol, a logo, a tune, a rhythm, a color, and in this case a television show.

According to Winograd et al., (1999) the less aware the participant is of the stimulus's previous exposure, the greater the extent of the obtained mere exposure effect should be because the participant who remembers the stimulus will be more likely to attribute this fluency to familiarity rather than to likeability. With that said I feel that even if people could not recall the content of that specific episode, the repeated exposure led to familiarity, which then led to positive feelings for prejudices on gingers. This episode theoretically enhances our understanding of the process underlying the mere exposure effect. The seventh and eight graders in this case choose to kick their ginger classmates not only because of there familiarity, but there exposure to the South Park episode which made their classmates engage in the “Kick a Ginger Day” attacks. It seems likely that the repeated exposure to this particular episode created a sense of vague familiarity, sometimes termed perceptual fluency. This warm glow of familiarity is then mistaken for liking. When people realize that the stimulus appears familiar because they have just seen it, they do not use this sense of familiarity as a basis for their liking judgments.


Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M. (2007). Social Psychology (6th edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Festinger, L., Schachter, S., & Back, K. (1950). Social pressures in informal groups: A study of human factors in housing. New York: Harper.

Marie, A., Gabrieli, J., Vaidya, C., Brown, B., Pratto, F., Zajonc, R., et al. (2001). The mere exposure effect in patients with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 27(2), 297-303.

Stang, D. J., & O'Connell, E. J. (1974). The computer as experimenter in social psychological research. Behavior Research Methods & Instrumentation, 6(2), 223-231.

Swap, W.C. (1977). Interpersonal attraction and repeated exposure to rewards and punishers. (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin), 3, 248-251.

Winograd, E., Goldstein, F., Monarch, E., Peluso, J., & Goldman, W. (1999). The mere exposure effect in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Neuropsychology, 13(1), 41-46.

Winton, R. (2009). At least seven redhaired students were victims of “ginger” attacks. Retrieved November 25, 2009 from http://

Yagi, Y., Ikoma, S., & Kikuchi, T. (2009). Attentional modulation of the mere exposure effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35(6), 1403-1410.

Zajonc, R.B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of the mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(Monograph Suppl. 2, pt.2).

Zajonc, R.B. (1980). Compresence. In P.B. Paulus (Ed.), Psychology of group influence (pp .35-60). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

◄ Back to Fall 2009 PSY 322 Assignment page

Personal tools