Sunday, November 9, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Mere Exposure Effect

The following essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.  Because I am publishing a book on this topic in 2015, posts will be significantly edited due to potential copyright conflicts.

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audience. Yesterday I discussed the use of primacy effect (which suggests that the message first received will be most persuasive) and recency effect (which suggests that the message most recently received will be most persuasive).

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Today I discuss mere exposure effect as another important way of improving persuasiveness through careful placement. Mere exposure effect simply means that by being repeatedly exposed to a message (or someone or something), one will be more likely to form a positive attitude about that message.  Considerable research has been used to show that being familiar with something breeds fondness.  Myers (2013) gives the example of the Eiffel Tower, once despised by Parisians, now a beloved symbol.  Relatively unknown political candidates have successfully used this tactic to increase their popularity through repeating advertisements.

This effect can be easily harnessed by abolitionist vegan advocates.  For those who operate street stalls, maintaining a regular presence is crucial.  The more familiar the public becomes with you and your stall, the more effective you will be.  Those who engage in online activism, don't give up. Continue engaging forums, chatrooms, and other pages with consistent posts about anti-speciesism.  If you own a vegan tshirt, wear it a lot!  The more your friends, families, and colleagues see it, the more positively the message will be viewed.  Keep bringing vegan food to company picnics, potlucks, and other events.  If you're advertising for a local group meeting or event, post lots and lots of fliers.  If you run a podcast or blog, maintain timely updates, and continue promoting them.  The key is to maintain a constant presence. In merely being exposed to your message repeatedly, people will begin to form a positive attitude about that message.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Increase exposure of message as much as possible
  • Repeat message and increase familiarity with that message
  • Maintain a regular presence


Bornstein, R.  1989.  "Exposure and Affect:  Overview and Meta-Analysis of Research, 1968-1987."  Psychological Bulletin 106:  265-289.

McCullough, J. and T. Ostrom.  1974.  "Repetition of Highly Similar Messages and Attitude Change."  Journal of Applied Psychology 59:  395-397.

Myers, D.  2013.  Social Psychology, 11th ed.  McGraw Hill.

Winter, F.  1973.  "A Laboratory Experiment of Individual Attitude Response to Advertising Exposure."  Journal of Marketing Research 10: 130-140.