Trial Science | The Mere Exposure Effect
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The Mere Exposure Effect

[NOTE:  Here is the second in the Persuasion Tip series written by our Summer Intern, Tera Robison from Emory University.  There is an elegance in the simplicity of her message.]

Have you ever taken a group photo at a fancy event and eagerly picked up the camera to see yourself looking spiffy, only to be disappointed because your hair is parted the wrong way? You’re not alone. Our favorite image of ourselves is our mirror image because it’s the one we see the most often. Don’t worry, this doesn’t make you vain. The more you see, or are otherwise exposed to anything (not just your own reflection) the more you like it. This phenomenon is called the mere exposure effect and you can use it to earn the loyalty of your clients and juries.

The mere exposure effect’s greatest researcher was Robert Zajonic. Zajonic performed behavioral research on animals and humans alike to reveal that repeated exposure to stimuli increases comfort with that stimuli. Zajonic’s research indicates that no one has to tell you what a great soda “X” is, and you don’t have to day dream about it either; just seeing countless soda “X” advertisements is enough to make you like it more.

Advertisers use the mere exposure effect to their advantage all the time; we see it not only in their product advertisements, but also in product placement and subliminal messaging. Sporting goods companies pay to smear their logos all over pro athletes. That’s the mere exposure effect at work. “Ok, but what does marketing have to do with me as an attorney?” you wonder.

So, sponsored athletes race down the basketball court as potential customers yearn to be like them. Sponsored athletes make impossible shots on the tennis court as potential customers yearn to be like them.  Jurors and clients watch you on [in] your court, too, and you want them to want to be like you.  By siding with you, they are saying “I’m like that attorney.” When your clients hire you or recommend you to others, they expect consistency in your work and professionalism.

Nice suits, snazzy business cards, plush offices, and endorsements mean nothing if you can’t put your money where your mouth is. The quality of service at your office, your level of professionalism when meeting with clients and in court, and the consistency of your work (right down to the format of your emails) is an advertisement for who you are as an attorney. As Zajonic’s research showed, the more we are exposed to the same things the more we like them. So, the more consistent you are in how you present yourself and your work physically, and the more consistent you are in your behaviors, the more comfortable your clients and jurors will become with you and the more likely they will want to be like you—deciding your way and recommending you to others for their legal needs.

Quick war story from Dr. Dugan on this Tip: Mere exposure and consistency of the message. An attorney defending Ford in a product defect case touted his client as a high-quality car maker. Great. When interviewing the jury after the trial, however, one juror said, “If he believed so much in the quality of his client’s product, why did I see him get out of his Saab in the courthouse parking lot one day during trial?” For the mere exposure effect to work, you have to be consistent in what you expose jurors and clients to.

 

Tera M. Robison

July 17, 2017

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