The mere exposure effect is defined as an increase in positive affect, resulting from the repeated presentation of previously unfamiliar stimuli (Seamon, Brody, & Kauff, 1983). It was first reported by Zajonc (1968) and has since been demonstrated in over 200 experiments involving a diverse range of stimuli (see Bornstein, 1989 for a review). A number of these studies have used subliminal stimuli to produce the increase in positive affect.
Bornstein and D'Agostino (1 990, 1 992) hypothesized that the mere exposure effect results from a combination of two processes. First, an increase in perceptual fluency is induced by repeated exposure to a stimulus. Second, subjects attribute perceptual fluency effects to liking for a stimulus based on contextual cues provided by the experimenter.
Although there has been considerable interest in the evolutionary origins of our preference for average faces (e.g., Thornhill & Gangestad, 1999; Rhodes & Zebrowitz, 2002), it is also important to understand which proximate mechanisms (e.g., perceptual or cognitive information processing mechanisms) make average faces attractive. A strong possibility is that their appeal reflects our preference for objectively familiar stimuli. Stimuli that have been seen before (even subliminally) are judged more positively than new ones, a phenomenon known as the "mere exposure effect" (e.g., Zajonc, 1968; Bornstein, 1989 for review).
Repeated exposure to a stimulus can make people like this stimulus better (Bornstein, 1989; Zajonc, 1968, 1980). Previous findings suggest that this mere-exposure effect (MEE) occurs although individuals are not consciously aware of having been exposed to the stimuli (cf. Bornstein, 1989). Thus, unconscious familiarity may be very important for the MEE - even more important than conscious recognition.
It was predicted that the amount a person is affected by mere exposure would be positively correlated with their Personal Need for Structure (PNS). Forty participants rated unfamiliar Turkish words for pleasantness. As predicted by the mere exposure effect, the greater the participants' exposure, the more pleasant the words were rated. Participants were also asked to complete a PNS questionnaire. Individual PNS scores correlated with individual mere exposure scores such that people who were higher in PNS were more affected by mere exposure.
To determine whether self-generated visual imagery alters liking ratings of merely exposed stimuli, 79 college students were repeatedly exposed to the ambiguous duck-rabbit figure. Half the participants were told to picture the image as a duck and half to picture it as a rabbit. When participants made liking ratings of both disambiguated versions of the figure, they rated the version consistent with earlier encoding more positively than the alternate version.
Over the last two decades interest in implicit memory, most notably repetition priming, has grown considerably. During the same period, research has also focused on the mere exposure effect. Although the two areas have developed relatively independently, a number of studies has described the mere exposure effect as an example of implicit memory. Tacit in their comparisons is the assumption that the effect is more specifically a demonstration of repetition priming.
The endowment effect increased object valuation but not object preference. The mere exposure effect increased object preference but not object valuation. Thus, at the unconscious level, an increase in object preference does not lead to an increase in object valuation, nor does an increase in object valuation lead to an increase in object preference.
You may think that as a consumer you are immune to these advertising tactics and that, you buy what you think is value for your money and suits your tastes. So, let me burst that bubble for you and dish out some dirt on advertising, called the 'mere exposure effect'. Apart from creating brand awareness, advertising gets you so familiar with a brand that you naturally start preferring it.
Zajonc (1968) demonstrated the mere exposure effect in three experiments. He showed participants stimuli with different exposure frequencies and asked them to rate their favorability towards the stimuli. The first experiment used nonsense words as stimuli, the second used Chinese-like characters, and the third used photos from a yearbook. The more the participants were exposed to a stimulus, the more they liked it. A wide variety of stimuli, in both lab and non-lab settings, have been shown to elicit the mere exposure effect.
I think the mere exposure effect also explains the preference shift towards McDonald's in little kids. The scientists found that the more television the children watched, the more they preferred food with a fast food label. So even if the little kids didn't understand the advertisements for the new southwestern chicken salad at McDonald's, or comprehend those billboards for McDonald's ice coffee (which is pretty good, by the way), they were exposed repeatedly to the golden arches, and that exposure made them like the brand.