The Mere Exposure Effect in Psychology: Understanding Preference and Familiarity


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 09, 2023

5 min read


The Mere Exposure Effect in Psychology: Understanding Preference and Familiarity


In the field of psychology, researchers have long been fascinated by the concept of the mere exposure effect. This phenomenon suggests that individuals tend to prefer things that they have been exposed to before, even if they don't consciously remember the exposure. It was social psychologist Robert Zajonc who first published a groundbreaking paper on this effect in 1968, shedding light on the underlying mechanisms behind our attraction to familiarity.

The Power of Exposure:

What makes the mere exposure effect so intriguing is the fact that it occurs without the need for any positive reinforcement or reward. Simply being exposed to an object or stimulus is enough to increase our liking for it. This raises interesting questions about human desire and the social process of mimetic desire. It seems that our subconscious mind plays a significant role in shaping our preferences and influencing our behavior.

Not Just for Humans:

While the mere exposure effect has been extensively studied in relation to human research participants, it is worth noting that it also occurs in studies involving non-human animals. This suggests that the effect may have evolutionary roots and serves as a mechanism for survival and adaptation. Animals, like humans, are more inclined to prefer things they have been exposed to before, which may aid in their ability to navigate their environment effectively.

The Role of Uncertainty Reduction:

One explanation for the mere exposure effect is the concept of uncertainty reduction. As humans, we are naturally cautious when encountering new things, as they may pose a threat or danger. However, repeated exposure to the same object or stimulus reduces our uncertainty and allows us to feel more at ease. When nothing negative happens after multiple exposures, we begin to realize that there is nothing to fear, leading to an increase in preference.

Perceptual Fluency and Familiarity:

Another factor that contributes to the mere exposure effect is perceptual fluency. When we encounter something familiar, it is easier for our brains to process and interpret the information. This cognitive fluency leads to a positive feeling and a sense of familiarity, further enhancing our liking for the object. We tend to gravitate towards things that we can easily understand and recognize, as they require less cognitive effort.

The Limitations of Repetition:

While the mere exposure effect is powerful, there is a limit to its effectiveness. Research has shown that excessive repetition can actually lead to a decrease in liking for an object. This phenomenon suggests that a moderate number of exposures is optimal for increasing preference. However, if the exposures continue indefinitely, we may eventually grow tired and lose interest. This finding resonates with personal experiences, such as getting tired of repetitive TV commercials.

Contrarian AI Theses: Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Transitioning to a different topic, let's explore some contrarian theses related to AI. These theses offer unique insights into the future of artificial intelligence and its impact on various industries.

1. Horizontal LLMs vs. New Technologies:

One contrarian thesis suggests that horizontal LLMs (large language models) will lose their prominence as new and better technologies emerge. While LLMs have played a crucial role in advancing AI, some experts believe that they will not lead us to AGI (artificial general intelligence). The next leaps in AI are expected to come from something entirely new, rather than just relying on more data. This insight challenges the notion that LLMs are the ultimate solution for AI development.

2. Vertical LLMs and Company-specific Applications:

Building on the previous thesis, it is argued that vertical LLMs may be more effective than a single horizontal LLM for most applications. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, utilizing multiple versions of vertical LLMs tailored to specific industries or companies may yield better results. This perspective highlights the importance of customization and specialization in AI development.

3. Impact on Specific Companies, not Full Markets:

Unlike previous technological waves that revolutionized entire markets, AI is predicted to have a more targeted impact. Instead of transforming entire industries, AI will fundamentally apply intelligence and learning to different steps in the corporate value chain. This means that some companies will be more amenable to leveraging AI than others based on the nature of their value chain. It is suggested that companies with similar steps in their value chain may benefit more from AI, irrespective of the product or customer they serve.

The Future of AI:

Looking ahead, it is crucial to consider the implications of AI on various aspects of our lives. One potential consequence is the erosion of competitive advantage. The idea that AI will eliminate most forms of competitive advantage challenges traditional business strategies. Companies will need to adapt and embrace AI to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving landscape.

Furthermore, AI is expected to create a divide between the real world and the AI world. The concept of agents, such as AutoGPT, becoming the norm suggests that customer acquisition channels may collapse into these intelligent entities. As a result, traditional methods of product-led growth (PLG) or community-driven go-to-market strategies may become irrelevant in the coming years.

Actionable Advice:

To harness the power of the mere exposure effect and navigate the evolving AI landscape, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

1. Embrace Familiarity and Exposure:

Recognize the influence of familiarity on preferences and decision-making. Incorporate the mere exposure effect into marketing strategies by exposing potential customers to your brand or product multiple times. However, ensure a balance, as excessive repetition can lead to diminishing returns.

2. Stay Ahead of AI Trends:

Keep abreast of emerging AI technologies and trends. Challenge conventional wisdom and explore contrarian theses to gain a competitive advantage. Be open to adopting new technologies and approaches that may disrupt existing norms.

3. Adapt to AI-Driven Changes:

Anticipate the impact of AI on your industry and company. Assess your value chain and identify areas where AI can be leveraged effectively. Embrace automation and intelligence where it adds value, and be prepared to reevaluate traditional workflows and strategies.


The mere exposure effect in psychology sheds light on our inclination towards familiarity and its influence on preferences. While the effect occurs subconsciously, it has significant implications for marketing and decision-making. Additionally, exploring contrarian theses in the field of AI challenges conventional wisdom and provides insights into the future of technology. By understanding these phenomena and taking actionable steps, individuals and businesses can navigate the ever-changing landscape of preferences and AI-driven advancements.

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