Mere Exposure and the Propinquity Effect: Theory & Examples

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  • 0:06 Close Relationships
  • 1:09 The Mere Exposure Effect
  • 2:17 The Propinquity Effect
  • 3:24 Westgate Studies
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
Close relationships are a huge topic of study for social psychologists. How do we meet the people who become our friends and lovers? Why do we like certain people more than others? In this lesson, we focus on that last question. We discuss the mere exposure effect and the propinquity effect and how both impact our liking and affection for other people.

Close Relationships

In our waking hours, the majority of us spend an extraordinary amount of time interacting with other people, in one way or another. After all, our connections to other people, and specifically our meaningful relationships with them, are crucial to our wellbeing and happiness because they are a part of who we are. Social psychologists study our close relationships for this reason, from the amity formed when two people meet for the first time, to the deep love that develops in romantic relationships.

One question that they have sought an answer to for decades is what creates our liking for other people. In other words, why are we attracted to certain people? There are several answers to this question that we will explore in this chapter. In this particular lesson, we will focus on the concept of the mere exposure effect and its impact on our liking of other people through the propinquity effect.

The Mere Exposure Effect

The mere exposure effect, also called the familiarity principle, suggests that mere exposure to a stimulus increases our liking for it. Just think of a new song that comes on the radio. The first time you hear it, maybe you aren't sure how you feel about it. But, you discover that you like it more and more each time you hear it, as long as you don't hear it all the time. The repetition increases your liking of the song.

Likewise, most of us favor pictures of ourselves that look like the mirror image we repeatedly see every day. A group of psychologists conducted a study that showed this is because of the mere exposure effect. Although we like our familiar mirror image more, the opposite is true of our friends. They like our real image more, because that is the one that they are used to seeing repeatedly. So, whether the stimuli is music, a photograph, or something else entirely, liking will increase with repetition.

We prefer mirror images of ourselves because that is what we are used to seeing everyday.
Mere Exposure Effect

The Propinquity Effect

The same is true of our liking of other people. According to the propinquity effect, which expands on the mere exposure effect, proximity is the most powerful predictor of liking for other people. Basically, we are most likely to develop affection for someone near to us, simply because we are frequently exposed to that person. Of course, if that person is an offensive jerk, the more exposure you have, the more you may dislike him or her.

However, in most circumstances, proximity encourages friendliness more often than hostility. And, even more important than geographical proximity is functional proximity: how often people's paths cross. Our lives are filled with people we may not have chosen but with whom we have frequent interactions: fellow students, coworkers, and so on. These people that we see and interact with regularly are the ones most likely to become our friends.

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