Salience theory of mere exposure: Relative exposure increases liking, extremity, and emotional intensity.

Kellen Mrkva, Leaf Van Boven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (SciVal)


We propose and support a salience explanation of exposure effects. We suggest that repeated exposure to stimuli influences evaluations by increasing salience, the relative quality of standing out from other competing stimuli. In Experiments 1 and 2, we manipulated exposure, presenting some stimuli 9 times and other stimuli 3 times, 1 time, or 0 times, as in previous mere exposure research. Exposure increased liking, replicating previous research (Zajonc, 1968), and increased salience, made evaluations more extreme, and made stimuli more emotionally intense. Across experiments, results of multiple mediation models and a causal chain of experiments supported the idea that salience explains these exposure effects. Fluency and apprehension, 2 constructs that have been invoked to explain mere exposure, accounted for less of these effects according to the mediation models and the chain of experiments. We next manipulated relative exposure and absolute exposure orthogonally, finding that relative exposure increases liking more than absolute exposure. Stimuli presented 9 times were liked more when other stimuli in the context were presented less than 9 times than when the other stimuli were presented more than 9 times (Experiment 4). Whereas absolute exposure had no significant effect in Experiment 4, relative exposure increased liking, extremity, and emotional intensity. In Experiment 5, a direct manipulation of salience increased liking, evaluative extremity, and emotional intensity. These results suggest that salience partially explains effects previously attributed to absolute “mere” exposure. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1118-1145
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number6
Early online date23 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • attitudes
  • emotion
  • fluency
  • mere exposure
  • salience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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