Mere exposure is one of the most simple and practical principles in psychology. It is a phenomenon often described in pop psychology.

Mere exposure effect definition

As stated in the APA Dictionary of Psychology, the mere exposure effect is the “finding that individuals show an increased preference (or liking) for a stimulus as a consequence of repeated exposure to that stimulus.

This effect is most likely to occur when there is no preexisting negative attitude toward the stimulus object, and it tends to be strongest when the person is not consciously aware of the stimulus presentations.”

It is the kind of cognitive bias that occurs when we choose things we are familiar with. The mere exposure effect may lead to suboptimal decision-making. Evaluating all feasible options based on their performance rather than familiarity is how good decisions are made.

When weighing options, it’s important to choose the best alternative rather than the familiar one.

choosing color from palette

How does the mere exposure effect work?

A fairly obvious explanation of the mere exposure effect appeals to the thesis that was liking a frequently encountered object is rooted in its familiarity – familiar objects are those from which we do not expect any unpleasant surprises. So they provide us with a certain psychological comfort.

However, this explanation is not satisfactory because the effect of mere exposure occurs even when the “old” objects are exposed so briefly that subjects are not aware of their appearance at all.

Moreover, the increase in liking of stimuli due to mere exposure is even stronger for stimuli exposed subliminally than those exposed long enough to be consciously remembered.

The phenomenon of sheer exposure underlies the effectiveness of many advertisements – each is repeated many times before it wears off. Often entire families of ads are built that repeat some selected element (e.g., a company logo).

Moreover, the repetition of advertising slogans also leads to increased belief in their truthfulness – we are more likely to believe repeated claims than claims encountered for the first time, regardless of their actual truthfulness.

deciding on apples

Why does the mere exposure effect occur?

The mere exposure effect occurs for two primary reasons:

To reduce uncertainty

We are less anxious about a subject when we are familiar with it. We have been conditioned by evolution to be cautious towards new things since they might be harmful. We accept things as reliable and safe when we see them repeatedly without thinking about the negative consequences.

Assume you’re a caveman, approaching two fruits for the first time: one that you’ve seen before and one that you haven’t. Which one do you believe will be more difficult to pick? The cavemen who encountered a new plant and ate it did not live as long (for obvious reasons).

We’ve evolved to have greater good feelings about people and things we’ve seen previously than those we haven’t.

To make understanding and interpreting easier. 

We are more able to comprehend and interpret things we have already seen in our mind’s eye, commonly known as “perceptual fluency.” Consider the following: movies with complicated plots are usually simpler to comprehend the second time around for most of us.

This is because the story and characters are typical, which equates to less new information for your brain to process. Because our mind tends to seek the path of least resistance, we prefer stimuli similar to what we’ve seen before.

choosing nail color

Why is the mere exposure effect important?

We should avoid the mere exposure effect since it might cause us to miss out on vital information and chances that we have never seen before. The familiar attracts us, and as previously said, familiarity isn’t a good basis for evaluation.

The old method may not be the ideal alternative in every instance. We are deterred from exploring these uncharted territories by prioritizing the known. This can result in us making poor judgments based on insufficient information and preventing us from seizing new chances.

Let’s speak to the first. First, consider people who choose politicians based on their reputation from campaign advertisements and news coverage rather than those who represent their interests. Second, consider an investor who refuses to invest in a cutting-edge innovation because they are familiar with its predecessor.

The upshot is that this condition might make us more narrow-minded and hinder personal development. Moreover, sticking to our routines and familiarities prevents us from being open to new ideas and putting ourselves in uncomfortable, unknown situations that push us to grow.

Examples of the mere exposure effect

Example in finance

The mere exposure effect may be especially detrimental to financial experts. For example, Gur Huberman, an economist, studied how financial Traders were more inclined to invest in firms with which they were familiar, despite the fact that this is not the most profitable or risk-averse technique.

International diversification is a typical technique for investors to avoid the consequences of a national economic downturn. In other words, it’s a good idea to spread your money across businesses in various countries if one of those nations suffers from economic difficulties. Of course, there’s also the appeal of many foreign equities being extremely lucrative.

Despite this, Huberman claims that “by and large, investors’ money stays in their home countries.” Despite deteriorating barriers to cross-border investment, this is the case. He feels that people may prefer to invest in something familiar.

People prefer to invest in firms they recognize from good media exposure or their own company’s stocks. The simple presence of a product may cause investors to favor known domestic equities over unfamiliar international ones.

Example in academia

Alexander Serenko and Nick Bontis conducted a study in 2010 that utilized data supplied by 233 active researchers to assess how academic journals were ranked.

They assumed that familiarity with a journal might influence their evaluation of it. Thus they expected that the exposure would come into play.

Their study confirmed the mere exposure effect. In addition, they discovered that researchers who had previously published or worked for a particular journal rated it higher than those who hadn’t and that perceptions of a journal were strongly connected to researchers’ familiarity with it.

How to avoid the mere exposure effect?

The mere exposure effect, while it is real, may eventually counter it. Repeated exposure that is maintained has been shown to limit and then diminish our attraction to a stimulus as it becomes less novel. We can often begin to avoid something if we are exposed to it for too long. According to a 1990 study, this is known as “boredom” with the stimulus.

This makes perfect sense: you usually start by liking a song and gradually come to adore it as you become more familiar with its sound. However, if you pay too much attention to the song, you become weary of it and stop listening to it.

A more proactive approach might be to grasp the value of diversity and new experiences. We may limit how often we are exposed to any stimulus by looking for unfamiliar and different encounters.

deciding man


In summary, the mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon where people have a tendency to prefer things that are familiar to them. This can be seen in how people choose politicians because of their reputation from campaign advertisements and news coverage rather than those who represent their interests. It can also be seen in how investors refuse to invest in a cutting-edge innovation because they are familiar with its predecessor.

A proactive approach could be grasping the value of diversity and new experiences. We may limit how often we are exposed to any stimulus by looking for unfamiliar and different encounters.

Make sure to check out our other articles on social psychology.


Experienced psychologist and T-shaped marketer with a deep love for content marketing and conversion copywriting. Privately a big fan of travel, coffee, and jazz!

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