Familiarity Breeds Liking Effect: How Repeated Exposure Can Make a Person Like Something

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Familiarity Breeds Liking Effect: How Repeated Exposure Can Make a Person Like Something

Exposure is explained as when an individual hears or sees something often, the more they start liking it and will enjoy it. / Photo by: Antonio Guillem via 123rf


Research shows that being regularly exposed to a stimulus, such as an object or an event, can cause people to respond to it positively. Science Daily states that this is what happens in the exposure effect, also known as the “familiarity breeds liking effect.” Conversely, stimuli that one is not familiar with, or novel stimuli,  causes a person to dislike it. A person’s sensory experience, together with regular exposure, increases their enjoyment of the stimuli.

It is also noted that the exposure effect may also result in the opposite outcome. It may lead to habituation or cause them to enjoy the stimulus less.


What Is Mere Exposure?

Social Psych Online says that mere exposure means that the more an individual hears or sees something, the more they start liking it.

Robert Zajonc’s study reveals that simply being exposed to an individual more often can lead them to like them more without them even knowing it. He showed subjects some images of Chinese characters. He told his participants to rate how pleasant they found the pictures. There were participants who saw the images for the first time, while there were others who were exposed to it a few times. There were some who had been exposed to it 25 times.

The results of his study showed that an increased exposure to the images also increased their affinity for it. A number of psychology researches have probed into the topic of mere exposure and found that it was applicable to various stimuli, such as geometric figures, paintings, flavors, and colors.



What is Subliminal Exposure?

When a person gets exposed to some stimuli such as pictures or words, subliminally, or without them being consciously aware of the exposure, this is known as the subliminal exposure. It is said that subliminal exposure heightens the impact of mere exposure.

This may explain why many marketing companies place their logos on other merchandise such as sports tickets, to make their company more visible. If the people see the logo of their brand more often, this may also give them the tendency to buy their product.


If a person sees the logo more often, they tend to buy their product. / Photo by: Luca Bertolli via 123rf


Why Does Familiarity Breed Liking?

There are more reasons for why repeated exposure to a certain stimuli makes a person like it than just being used to it or being familiar with it.

Psychology Today discusses the reasons why humans have an affinity for what is familiar:

Lessens uncertainty

Being repeatedly exposed to a stimulus reduces uncertainty. Familiar faces are less threatening to people and contain low information. This may show why people tend to be averse to immigrants than natives, because they do not know much about them. It is related to the fear of the unknown.

Classical Conditioning

People do not merely like a stimulus for its positive characteristics. Being constantly exposed to a specific stimulus cause a person to have a certain processing fluency which can make a person more attracted to an event or thing. Processing fluency is explained as the gauge of how easy it is for a person to think about something. The brain processes familiar stimuli quicker than it does with novel stimuli.

Bias for what is familiar

Most individuals would prefer anything that is familiar to them. Some examples would be familiar music and familiar food. This explains why major labels often try to play their music on the radio, because the more listeners are exposed to a kind of music, the more they will think of it as likable.

Another example would be why Mexican children have developed a taste for spicy dishes. Their taste in food depends on which social environment they were brought up in. Their social environment determines how their food should taste. It has been shown that children are more prone to eating food that they see others, such as the adults they are surrounded by, eating.


Kids are prone to eating food that they see others who are familiar to them eating it too. / Photo by: Cameron Whitman via 123rf


Familiarity Can Also Breed Contempt

Too much exposure to certain stimuli may also have the reverse effect. Although at first repeated exposure to it can increase an individual’s feelings of pleasure and make them feel safe, another side to this they also gradually come to dislike the stimuli or get bored of it.

For example, in a social setting, when one first meets an acquaintance and finds out they have something in common, this causes them to like the person. However, as more time passes and they realize the many differences they have, they may grow to dislike the person.

This may also apply to the concept in romance where someone plays “hard to get”. An individual who plays hard to get gives off the impression that they are busy, making the suitors think that they are mysterious.


What Are the Limitations of the Mere Exposure Effect?

In some studies, it was shown that the impact of mere exposure is increased when there is a delay between the exposure and the rating of the stimuli. This also reveals that it gives more time for those exposures to be processed. Even after two weeks, it was revealed that the participants still felt the impact of the exposure effect.

However, the impact of the exposure effect may not be as effective on children, since they are often more drawn to novel things and crave new experiences rather than the things that they have become familiar with.



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