Management & Organization

The "mere exposure effect" and how it helps you network

We are constantly told that it is important to network. But it is not always that simple. Especially not if you are a beginner and your network is almost nonexistent. It can seem overwhelming when trying to find out where to start building the meaningful relations that should later lead to opportunity.

What do you do if you get a business card? What can you do to keep the relationship “alive”? According to Melody Wildling networking is a complex practice that requires a certain level of training and skill. 

Luckily, you can use a simple trick that can help you lift even your furthest acquaintances to resourceful network possibilities.

The trick is called “the mere exposure effect” and it is a psychological principle that states that the more you are exposed to a person, thing or idea, the more you'll like him/her/it. According to this theory you'll like a person more and more the longer time you spent with him or her.

Even chicken prefer things they know

All the way back in the 1960s, Robert Zajonc, who is regarded as the leading researcher within the field of the mere exposure effect, studied how sounds and words were perceived increasingly positively the more times the test subjects was exposed to them. The same thing applies for things as different as Chinese signs, paintings, pictures of faces, geometrical figures and sounds.

And this isn't limited to people. It's also been proven that chicken prefer the sounds that they heard from inside the egg, above unknown sounds.

In other words, the mere exposure effect shows that the more a person is seen, the more likeable and sympathetic she appears. Even if this person is covered in a black bag. Yes, a black bag!

In 1968 Charles Goetzinger exposed a group of students to an experiment where a student showed up in class wearing a black bag that only allowed her feet to be visible. The experiment confirmed Zajonc’s hypothesis; the students initially treated the bag with hostility, which then led to curiosity and in the end even friendship. A crazy experiment that nonetheless shows the power of the mere exposure effect.

A power you can use when you want to build or adjust your network. Melody Wildling helps us with these “Do’s and don’ts of the mere exposure effect”:


  • Follow up like a pro. If you don't follow up when you meet a new person, you'll miss the opportunity to create a stronger bond that over time can evolve into a meaningful relation. Make sure that you send an email, where you thank them or state a simple “nice to meet you”, shortly after meeting this person. Continue writing the following months to make sure you stay in this person’s consciousness. Make sure to add something of value to the relation every time. For instance send relevant blogs, recommend books or events, suggest that you drink a cup of coffee or explain how you acted on good advice this person gave you.

  • “Like”, tweet and connect. Social media is an obvious opportunity to maintain contact with a new acquaintance. Make sure you “connect” on LinkedIn and possibly follow the person on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest etc. This way you demonstrate that you're still engaged in the relationship by frequently “liking”, sharing or commenting on the person’s posts and contributions. Every time you do so the person will be reminded of you and also be given a shot of serotonin: The brain’s reward chemical that strengthen his or her self-esteem and makes him or her associate you with a good sensation.

  • Keep an open mind. Your network pays off in different ways and at different times. That is why it makes sense to think of your network from a “mere exposure” perspective. When your network knows you, they have the opportunity to contact you with questions and a request for help, which makes it easier for you to ask when you need help.


  • Overdo it. Familiarity provides attraction, but there is no one who likes to be drowned in emails, tweets or comments. If you've waited two weeks for an answer regarding a job interview, a follow-up mail or two is sufficient. But if you send an email to the chief of HR every morning, you'll appear needy and unattractive. The familiarity principle only works if you add a little value to the relation every time, so make sure to get the balance right.

  • Get discouraged. Once in a while things doen't work out the way you intended, people are busy and it's easy to loose contact. That’s the way it is. But if you use the mere exposure effect as your guide on how to network, you can, over time, create a robust collection of contacts that can advise and help you. And you'll definitely learn a thing or two about people and your industry along the way.