Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, December 5, 2016

I don't think I even like you, but you're sitting next to me.

instagram: @CatanaComics 

The mere exposure effect suggests that people tend to develop affection for things that are more familiar to them, things that they encounter more often. This has been proven to be true for food (Pliner, 1982), where the more you eat the food the more you like it. Research has also shown that this is applicable to interpersonal relationships. A professor called Goetzinger famously tested this idea by having a person dressed from head-to-toe in a black bag sit in his lectures without interacting with the other students at all. Over time, the students’ opinions of the person in the black bag turned from hostile to friendly (Zajonc, 1968). Without any interpersonal interaction at all, the mere act of being close by creates a sense of affinity.

The mere exposure effect has been well documented not only in research but also in current social media and television. In the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Barney creates a “Mermaid Theory”, in which he theorizes that people will become attracted to each other if they spend a lot of time together, regardless of whether they initially found each other attractive at all. He uses two other characters who initially heavily disliked each other, but then entered a relationship after spending sufficient time with each other. As a personal example, my best friend and I used to dislike each other but after having been placed together at school because the teachers thought it would result in a quieter class, we ended up becoming inseparable.

Similarly, the proximity principle suggests that people tend to form relationships with others who are close by. As an example, people who are randomly put together as flatmates in first year would likely form close friendships because they are close in proximity, regardless of their individual personalities. Ebbesen, Kjos and Konečni (1976) found that the likelihood of a friendship forming increased as the distance between the two people decreased. They also found a positive correlation between strength of liking and frequency of contact between the two.

In a more recent study, Preciado, Snijders, Burk, Stattin and Kerr (2012) asked whether proximity matters in adolescent relationships. Adolescent relationships are often very close and involve deep liking for each other, but can also be based on superficial reasons such as attractiveness and popularity. Adolescents also often don’t have the means to travel and would tend to become friends with people who they are easily in contact with, such as schoolmates or neighbors. The research found not only that the probability of friendship is proportional to household proximity, but also that this becomes more important when the adolescents went to different schools and would thus likely have only this way of knowing each other.

Preciado et al. (2012)

In short, the mere exposure effect and proximity principles show how socially, people who are put together often create positive feelings for each other. This is applicable also to objects, such as food, and possibly advertising. According to these, persuasion is an effect of exposure, and the research supports that. As a new suggestion for future research, perhaps the effect of mere exposure on online relationships would be interesting. An investigation into the formation of long-distance online-only relationships, therefore missing the proximity and mere exposure that has been the basis of other relationships might be a worthwhile subject to look into.

Ebbesen, E. B., Kjos, G. L., & Konečni, V. J. (1976). Spatial ecology: Its effects on the choice of friends and enemies. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology12, 505-518.

Pliner, P. (1982). The effects of mere exposure on liking for edible substances. Appetite3, 283-290.

Preciado, P., Snijders, T. A., Burk, W. J., Stattin, H., & Kerr, M. (2012). Does proximity matter? Distance dependence of adolescent friendships. Social networks34(1), 18-31.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9(2p2), 1.

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