In 1968, one experiment exposed participants to a series of Chinese characters, presenting some a single time or up to twenty-five times. The more they were exposed to a particular character, the more they associated the character as having a positive meaning. A key aspect of the study was that participants were not consciously aware of the difference in frequency. Since the 1968 study, over 200 additional studies have been conducted that have verified that from sounds to smells, from tastes, to faces to shapes, typically…familiarity breeds likeability.
Notice I said typically breeds likeability. In a 2009 study, it was demonstrated that when perception is already negative, then repeated exposure only serves to reinforce that negativity. In the study, British participants believed they were evaluating how much British people liked French names and vice versa. In one condition they were informed French students had been fair in their ratings and in a second condition were informed that French students had been rating British names as less appealing. The fact is, the French students didn't really even exist.
In the first condition, were students thought the French had been fair the mere exposure effect stayed true to form, the more times a name was repeated, the more participants liked the name. But, in the negative condition, the more times a French name was presented, the more they disliked that particular name.
For years advertisers have used the mere exposure effect to breed likeability of their product or brand. Instead of spending money across a broad audience, having every person see an ad only once, they buy ads that will be repeated again and again only on certain channels or at specific times as to reach a narrow audience repeatedly. They penetrate the market by being that squeaky wheel you can't ignore.
To use the mere exposure effect in your life, consider the following:
- Periodically post to social media and make a few comments. Even giving a "like" can benefit.
- Leverage birthdays and holidays to stay in touch. These provide the perfect reason to reach out to your contacts a minimum of twice each year.
- Want a promotion or to be looked upon more favorably by colleagues? Participate in activities or groups where your personal brand will be visible such as corporate activities, committees, etc.
- Focus on your audience. Like advertisers, know your audience and use your time and energy reinforcing existing relationships. For new relationships, always send a follow up message or note.
- Keep it positive, avoid the negative. Obviously try to make a great first impression and minimize any potential for negative references.