In another study, Zajonc showed participants twelve photographs of men. Each photograph was displayed for a couple of seconds, but some pictures were shown only once, while others were shown up to twenty-five times. When Zajonc asked his participants to rate how much they liked each of the men in the photographs, he found that the more times participants saw a man’s face, the more they liked him.
To fully appreciate the power of mere exposure outside the lab, consider this study by Richard Moreland and Scott Beach. These researchers first selected four women who looked like typical students to act as accomplices in their experiment (that is, they knew what was going on). All four had their photos taken, then attended class in different frequencies. One never went to class, another attended five classes, the third attended ten and the fourth attended class fifteen times over the semester.
At the end of the semester, students in the class were presented with slides of all four women and were asked to rate how physically attractive each woman was, along with some other ratings. Exactly as you’d expect based on the theory of mere exposure, the researchers found that the more classes an accomplice had attended, the more other students rated her as attractive. What’s more, the more she’d attended classes, the more other students said they wanted to spend time with her and thought she was intelligent, among other things.
The "mere exposure effect" is one of my favourite findings in social psychology because it is counter-intuitive. We’re often told that familiarity breeds contempt, but in fact the theory of mere exposure predicts just the opposite—familiarity, it would seem, actually breeds attraction. Whether it’s a person, sounds, drawings, words and names, objects, or even nonsense symbols, the more we’re exposed to something the more we like it. And the theory helps explain why we like others who are nearby.
What’s more, the mere exposure effect has also led to some interesting findings. Here’s one that you could try for yourself using any basic computer graphics programme. First, take a photograph of your face facing the camera; next, on your computer graphics programme, flip the image horizontally (left-side-right) so you end up with two images—the original and your flipped version. Which image of yourself do you prefer?
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