Book Definition:

A learned preference for stimuli to which we have been previously exposed whether or not the stimulus was associated with something pleasurable or even whether we were aware of the stimulus.

Simply Put...

  • Reacting to a sensation without thinking about it because you have been exposed to that sensation before.
  • Having a preference for something you are familiar with.
  • In social psychology, this effect is sometimes called the familiarity principle.
  • Reacting/doing something because it has already been learned.

Examples/Functions of Mere exposure effect

  • When shopping for an MP3 player, you automatically consider the Apple iPod over a different brand, since you have been exposed to it a lot more.
  • Choosing the Verizon phone company because the Verizon commercials are constantly playing on TV, whether it be about a cell phone or a TV program..
  • Choosing a Coke instead of generic brand because it is more familiar and widely consumed.
  • When you are older and go grocery shopping, you pick the same brands as your mom because you grew up with them.
  • Teachers do this by wording the multiple choice questions on the test similar to the wording of the notes, so that you know the right answer because you have seen it before.
  • When you start driving you pick up the same bad habits your parents do because you have experienced them driving for years.

Additional Resources



  • In this experiment they exposed Alzheimer's patients and elderly control patients, to cards of unfamiliar people and asked them to guess their age. They began testing the mere exposure effect when they showed them pairs of people both from the old set and a picture of a new face. The control group most often picked the face they had already seen before, however when the Alzheimer's patients picked, they too picked the face they had already seen but with no explicit recognition of the face. This showed that even in people with Alzheimer's who have impaired abilities of recognition still picked the face they had seen before because of the mere exposure effect. This also showed mere exposure is a form of subserving priming, we like what we are more familiar with.

  • In another experiment done by Robert Zajonc, people were shown a Chinese character between one and twenty five times, the more the person would see the character through out the experiment the people would start to think that the character had a more positive meaning than before.