Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Self-Generated Visual Imagery Alters the Mere Exposure Effect

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Self-Generated Visual Imagery Alters the Mere Exposure Effect

Article excerpt

To determine whether self-generated visual imagery alters liking ratings of merely exposed stimuli, 79 college students were repeatedly exposed to the ambiguous duck-rabbit figure. Half the participants were told to picture the image as a duck and half to picture it as a rabbit. When participants made liking ratings of both disambiguated versions of the figure, they rated the version consistent with earlier encoding more positively than the alternate version. Implications of these findings for theoretical models of the exposure effect are discussed.

During the past 35 years, there have been more than 250 published experiments assessing aspects of Zajonc's (1968) mere exposure effect, according to which repeated, unreinforced exposure to a stimulus is sufficient to enhance one's attitude toward that stimulus (Bornstein, 1989; Bornstein & Craver-Lemley, 2004). A broad array of stimuli-including photographs, drawings, matrices, polygons, real words, nonsense words, ideographs, musical selections, and people encountered in and out of the laboratory produce robust mere exposure effects. The exposure effect occurs under a wide variety of conditions, including situations wherein participants' awareness of stimulus content is obviated by subliminal stimulus exposures or concurrent performance of resource-intensive tasks (Bargh, 2001; Bornstein, 1992; Kunst-Wilson & Zajonc, 1980; Murphy & Zajonc, 1993).

Although the existence of the exposure effect is uncontroversial, researchers disagree on the processes that underlie the effect. Zajonc (1980, 2001) argued that mere exposure effects represent pure affective responses that occur with minimal intervening cognitive activity (see also Murphy, Monahan, & Zajonc, 1995). The existence of exposure effects in primates and other mammals (see, e.g., Hill, 1978) supports Zajonc's affective primacy hypothesis, as do data demonstrating that affective "spillover" effects alter judgments of related-and even unrelated-stimuli in mere exposure experiments (Monahan, Murphy, & Zajonc, 2000). Winkielman and Cacioppo's (2001) finding that exposure-induced ease of processing alters zygomaticus major muscle activity further suggests that hedonic fluency plays a role in the exposure effect, and may help account for affective responding without extensive cognitive processing (for related findings, see also Harmon-Jones & Allen, 2001; Zárate, Sanders, & Garza, 2000).

An alternative perspective on the exposure effect is derived from the work of Seamon, Brody, and Kauff(1983), Mandler, Nakamura, and Van Zandt (1987), and others (e.g., Bornstein & D'Agostino, 1994; Klinger & Greenwald, 1994; A. Y. Lee, 2001), who demonstrated that under certain conditions higher level cognitive processes moderate liking judgments of merely exposed stimuli. The results of these experiments, taken together, have been used to bolster an explanation of the exposure effect, which contends that affective reactions to merely exposed stimuli sometimes entail more extensive cognitive processing of stimulus content beyond rudimentary encoding of stimulus properties.

Several lines of evidence support the notion that complex cognitive processes are involved in at least some variations of the mere exposure effect. For example, Bonanno and Stillings (1986) found that repeated exposure to random polygons influenced not only physical judgments of polygon properties (e.g., brightness and darkness), but also affect judgments. These results suggest that repeated exposure results in the formation of a mental representation of each familiarized stimulus, with subsequent exposures during the test phase leading to activation of these representations. Parallel findings with more socially relevant stimuli were obtained by M. A. Lee, Sundberg, and Bernstein (1993), who found that repeated viewing of photographs of college-age men influenced height estimates as well as affect judgments regarding the individuals pictured in the photographs. …

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