Cognitive Bias: Mere-Exposure Effect

Mere-Exposure Effect

Mere-Exposure Effect

Part 7 of our “Cognitive Bias and Leadership” Series – See more here.

On our January 16, 2013 blog, I gave an overview of cognitive bias (our tendency to filter information through our own past experiences, likes, and dislikes) and surmised that it can lead to judgments that are faulty.  So much of positive leadership is about good decision making so we really wanted to expand on different biases.

In the 7th of our series, I am going to talk about the Mere-Exposure Effect – the tendency to prefer things because we are familiar with them.  What this means is that if you have been exposed to something prior, you will tend to favor it over something to which you have never been exposed…this could be a person, a product, a place, an event – you name it.  In fact, if you have ever been to a concert, I am sure you saw this phenomenon in action.  I just went to a Sara Barielles concert last night and she sang and played many great songs.  As I listened to a particular song for the very first time, I acknowledged that it would likely become a favorite, but it didn’t really increase my enthusiasm in that moment.  But as soon as the hits were played, the place came alive, and so did I.  That is the Mere-Exposure Effect in action.

Interestingly, people don’t even have to remember the exposure for the Mere-Exposure effect to be operational.  In one study, amnesia patients were exposed to photos of faces with fictional bios.  Days later, when asked, the patients showed a preference for those faces to which they had previously been exposed, even though they could not consciously recall the details.

Of course the Mere-Exposure effect does not actually apply to negative reactions when exposed to something.  Your brain, the second time around, would most certainly cause you to have a negative view.  But barring negativity, your cognitive systems assume a reasonable amount of safety and whatever it is to which you were exposed, you will likely like it better time 2 around.

So what about the Mere-Exposure Effect and Business?


Well, the Mere-Exposure Effect can help in your networking for one. And I am not talking about the computer or Internet kind…I am referring to getting out there and meeting new business contacts.  If you are an introvert, or just not in the mood for talking, actually just being present and accounted for will lay the groundwork for the next time around.  If you can manage to get a business card and do a follow-up email, the next time you see that same contact, they will likely warm up to you more quickly.  And repeating the same networking events will likely lead to greater effect since you will be seen by the same business circle.

Social Media:

I have seen this work in my own social circles.  When people comment, “Like” or “Follow” my content, I take notice.  And I start to feel the relationship unfold. I can’t tell you how many people I have done real business with and they only place I have known them is online.


Well, obviously Advertisers have been leveraging this for many decades and with the advent of the Internet and 2-way online relationships, the concept of the drip campaign has soared.  Drip campaigns go beyond just straight repetition and frequency and build on the relationship aspects as well.  Additionally, since we now know more about our customers and our interactions online, we can tailor our touch points to further build trust by providing the right information at the right time.


If you are trying to build a strategic relationship, consider negotiating over several meetings instead of 1 or 2. This will allow the relationship to more quickly blossom.

What do you think?  Are there ways Mere-Exposure plays in your company or team?  We’d love to hear from you.

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