mereexposure

How Sitting Quietly Can Increase Your Influence: Mere Exposure and Social Influence

musicI find that I usually really like the first song on an album. When I listen to music, I listen to one album at a time, and I always start with the first song. Since there are times when I play the first song and end up walking away or getting distracted, I end up hearing that song more than any of the other ones. Could it be that the reason I like those songs so much simply come down to the fact that I’ve heard them more?[1]  No, seriously. Check out the YouTube video I linked to right there. It’s a great example of mere exposure and how we end up liking songs we hear a lot.

A bunch of research in psychology would say so! There’s an idea in social psychology called the mere exposure effect, and it’s been supported by a whole bunch of research. Across a bunch of studies, the more times people are exposed to a picture, a person, etc., the more they like it! As we’ll see by the end of this article, this simple “mere exposure” also makes you more likely say “yes” to a person whom you’ve seen for a few minutes already, compared to someone you’re seeing for the first time.

[Note: if you’re interested in the kinds of thing I cover in this post, you might be interested in my online psychology courses. See the end of this post or this page for details!]

By the way, check out this video for an audiovisual version of this post…


Familiarity and Likability

Basically, it all comes down to familiarity. We like things more when we’re already familiar with them. The more we see something, the more familiar it becomes, and the more we’re drawn to it. Think about brands. Companies spend big bucks to keep their logo in front of your face. The more you see their logo, the more familiar it is to you, and when you’re shopping for soda, you’ll pick the one with a familiar logo. [2]  If you want to get a little more into this, mere exposure is related to familiarity through a process called “fluency.” According to research on fluency, we like things when they are easy to process or understand. People are more drawn to simpler paintings, compared to clunkier, more complicated ones. This is related to mere exposure because the more often you see something or someone, the easier it is to process because we’ve gotten more used to it.

This isn’t just about logos or simple symbols; mere exposure applies to people, too! The more we’ve seen someone, the more we like that person. One classic study showed that the more often a student attended a college class (even without interacting with the other students), the more the other students liked the person in question.

Increasing Your Influence By Getting to Know Someone

So we already know that we like things more when they are more familiar to us, but it’s also true that we’re more likely to be influenced by people we like (vs. people we don’t like). All of this means that one way to be more persuasive is to people whom you don’t know is to become a familiar face. Although reaching out and getting to know the other person is one way to do it, mere exposure suggests it’s not the only one.

convoResearchers have tested the power of mere exposure to another person, showing how it affects a person’s susceptibility to influence. They had participants come in to do a short study on “manual dexterity and cognitive recognition skills.” I reality, this was just a cover for the real study, which was about social influence.

In one experiment, everyone came in and got to work on the activities that were apparently part of the study. Some of the participants, however, did these activities with a partner who started a conversation after the activities were completed. To be clear, this “partner” was actually an actor who was working for the experimenters, and she was instructed to strike up a conversation. At the end of the study, as they were getting ready to leave, the actor asked for a favor from the participant—to give feedback on an essay she had written for class.

Another set of participants, however, did the first set of activities alone, and when they were getting ready to leave, the actor (who was apparently a participant from a different room) came in and made the same request of the participant.

So the question is: are we more likely to agree to help someone with whom we’ve just had a two minute conversation or someone whom we’ve never met? Not surprisingly, we help the person we’re a little more familiar with. In the experiment, 49% of people helped their partner after having a conversation, but only 26% agreed to help when asked by a complete stranger.

Increasing Your Influence by Sitting Quietly

flying-people-sitting-public-transportationOkay, it’s not that amazing that people help someone with whom they have a social connection, but there’s a third group of participants I haven’t told you about yet. For yet another group of people in the study, they came into the lab, did some activities in the same room as another participant (the actor), and afterward, there was no conversation. No talking, no getting to know each other—just sitting in the same room for two minutes. Then, as they’re getting ready to leave, the partner makes the same request.

Under these conditions, people are more likely to agree to help the partner, compared to when the person asking for help was a total stranger. However, people were just as likely to help someone who they sat next to for two minutes as they were to help someone with whom they had an actual conversation for two minutes![3]  For the detail-minded, 48.6% of people helped when the person who sat quietly next to them, 48.7% helped the person who had a conversation with them, and 26.3% helped the complete stranger.

Mere Exposure, Likability, and Influence

The moral of the story is that simply becoming a familiar face can be a powerful advantage when it comes to asking for help later. Even when people don’t know a thing about you, just by having become familiar with you as a person, they’re more likely to say “yes” when asked for a favor.

It’s at this point that I’ll take advantage of you having become familiar with me through reading this article! I have two full online video courses available on (a) the psychology of attraction and (b) the psychology of influence. Each of these courses cover tons of social psychology wisdom that come from experiments like the one I described here, and they give you practical tips you can use to create likability quickly and to increase your chances of people agreeing to things you ask them.

By enrolling through the links in this article, you’ll get a huge discount on those courses. Go ahead and click on the links to see just how big a discount I’m talking about!

You can also stay up-to-date on free, high-quality psychology content by subscribing to blog, liking Facebook page, or following on Twitter (@So_Psych). See you around!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.   No, seriously. Check out the YouTube video I linked to right there. It’s a great example of mere exposure and how we end up liking songs we hear a lot.
2.   If you want to get a little more into this, mere exposure is related to familiarity through a process called “fluency.” According to research on fluency, we like things when they are easy to process or understand. People are more drawn to simpler paintings, compared to clunkier, more complicated ones. This is related to mere exposure because the more often you see something or someone, the easier it is to process because we’ve gotten more used to it.
3.   For the detail-minded, 48.6% of people helped when the person who sat quietly next to them, 48.7% helped the person who had a conversation with them, and 26.3% helped the complete stranger.

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