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Mere Exposure Theory


Explanations > Theories > Mere Exposure Theory

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 



The more exposure we have to a stimulus, the more we will tend to like it. Familiarity breeds liking more than contempt. Things grow on us and we acquire tastes for things over time and repeated exposure.

This stimulus can be people, commercial products, places, etc. We can get to like most things, given time. We can even get to like unpleasant things, such as when prisoners miss prison.

When we make choices, the familiar is often chosen over the unfamiliar. ‘Better the devil you know’ as they say.

Exposure can be overdone. After a certain number of exposures we will ignore the message. If the exposures continue, we will get irritated and ‘take revenge’ by assuming negative responses to the message.

The exposure effect is linked to the disgraced world of subliminal messages and subliminal (<50ms) exposure has increased liking. 


Zajonc (1968) showed Chinese characters to people from one to 25 times, asking them to guess the meaning. The more they saw a character the more positive a meaning they gave.

Miller (1976) showed people posters about stopping foreign aid up to 200 times. They were persuaded most by moderate exposure. After 200 exposures they reacted negatively to the message!

Kunst-Williams and Zajonc briefly (1 ms) showed octagons to experimental participants. Although they were later unable to identify the octagons, their liking for the shapes increased.


Adverts use this effect. By repeated exposure, viewers gradually start to like the product without every having tried it. It is also possible to become sick of endlessly repeated ads, so advertisers will regularly change the advertisement (thereby giving rise to a highly profitable industry).

So what?

Using it

To convince someone to buy a product, let them use it or even borrow it for a while. Find ways of getting it in front of them, whether it is by advertisements, giveaways or whatever. Repeat advertisements, but not too often.


When you keep seeing something, wonder why. Notice if someone or some organization is presenting that something to you. Decide consciously about what you like.

See also

Friendship, Propinquity Effect, Law of Attraction, Subliminal Messages


Zajonc (1968), Sawyer (1981), Miller (1976), Kunst-Wilson and Zajonc (1980)


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