The mere exposure effect can guide our preferences without us even realizing. In a year, you may like something you hate right now.

Have you ever wondered why your preferences change as you get older? Maybe you hated olives and now you love them. Maybe you and your best friend hated each other and now you can’t imagine life without them. These are both examples of the mere exposure effect, a powerful psychological phenomenon that can change our preferences as we go through life.

If you catch yourself saying, ‘Oh, I used to hate that,’ then you may be experiencing this effect. Familiarity is a powerful thing, and we have three examples to prove that the mere exposure effect really does work.

What Is the Mere Exposure Effect?

It is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to develop a preference for things simply because they are familiar with them. The more you are exposed to something, the more you may find yourself liking it.

This may occur consciously or subliminally, but it is strongest when you don’t realize you’re experiencing something. The more times you experience the same thing, the more familiar you become with it and you may find yourself enjoying it more than you expected.

The mere exposure effect works because we enjoy familiarity. It makes us feel safe and secure, so we tend to seek it out when we can. If you’re still not sure this is true, consider the next three examples of the mere exposure effect. I promise you will have experienced one if not all of these examples.

Music

Have you ever heard a song and not liked it at first, then, the more you hear it, the more you like it? This is a classic example of the mere exposure effect. If you hear a song over and over on the radio, you will most likely enjoy it a lot more the tenth time than the first.

This is a common example of subliminal mere exposure because you may not even realize you are listening to the song as often as you are. Then, once you consciously listen to it, or realize you are listening to it, you will find you enjoy it much more than you did the first time. Eventually, you might find yourself singing along or even putting the song on purposefully.

People

They say that first impressions are the most important, but this may not be true. The more time you spend with someone, the more familiar they become to you. This means that you will find more in common with them. The things that might have annoyed you at first will also become more familiar and you will be used to them the longer you spend with them.

Once you know someone in this way, you may tend to like them more as you are familiar with their quirks. Many friendships can begin with two people severely disliking each other. However, over time, the relationship grows as familiarity sets in.

Food

Of course, it is true that as we get older, our taste buds change and we may enjoy things we didn’t previously. However, this can also be a product of the mere exposure effect.

You may not like the taste of olives right away, but you may eat them on pizza or in sauces. Eventually, you will become used to the taste in other things and it will become familiar to you. It is a slow process and you may not even notice it happening. As time goes on, however, you find yourself more readily eating olives on their own.

How Far Does the Mere Exposure Effect Go?

Studies have shown that the mere exposure effect is at its most powerful when there is a period of time between exposures. So, when you experience something for the first time, you may not like it. Then, when you experience it a second time, maybe a few days later, you like it a little more. As this continues and the experience becomes more familiar, you will begin to like it more and more.

It will take a few exposures for the familiarity to develop, so it does take time for the effect to really take hold. This means that if you experience the same thing over and over, you won’t begin to enjoy it as much as you would if you had a break from it between experiences.

Children have also been found not to suffer from the mere exposure effect as much as adults. This is because children tend to enjoy new things rather than the familiar ones. For children, the familiar is more of a comfort than a novelty. As you get older, the more familiar you are with something, the more you tend to enjoy it.

Time can change many things, but it is definitely true that it can change how you feel. The mere exposure effect may not cause you to like anything and everything. Yet, it is a powerful phenomenon that can change our preferences and have us enjoying things we previously hated.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com

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