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The mere exposure effect, meeting people and dating

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The mere exposure effect, meeting people and dating Empty The mere exposure effect, meeting people and dating

Post by inbloomer Sat Nov 20, 2021 8:38 pm

I've become increasingly sure that the mere exposure effect (MEE) is a key factor in dating, and that it's something dating advice tends not to understand that well.

The MEE, also called the familiarity principle, is that we all have a bias towards liking things we recognise. Basically because we're more confident this thing doesn't pose a threat than we are when it's brand new to us. There is a tonne of solid academic evidence to back this up, and it's why, for example, companies spend huge amounts of money just to get their logo seen.

In dating, there's an apocryphal story about a guy in a long-distance relationship who writes to his girlfriend every day for a year. As a result, she marries the postman. Because he's the one she's actually seeing every day. There's also all the evidence that people are most likely to date within the group of people they are seeing most regularly, e.g. university students are most likely to get together with someone they're sharing a landing with.

The cool thing about the MEE is that you don't even need to be interacting directly for it to work. Just being around is enough. There was a study done, also at a university, where students rated as more attractive the face of someone who'd been sitting in on their lectures for a while than new faces. But the MEE has two key caveats:

1) It doesn't work if someone's initial reaction to you was strongly negative (i.e. you did come across as a threat). Then, repeated exposure just makes them dislike you more.
2) Pushing too hard and fast, i.e. overexposure, quickly ruins it.

So what does this really mean for dating? It means all the people who are terrified of coming across as creepy do sort of have a point, because at the earliest stage of meeting someone, one slight mistake can put them right off you and then take a long time to come back from, if at all. On the other hand, it means that attending things regularly, even if you're doing no more than being generally friendly and polite, can actually be laying a lot more groundwork than you think it is.


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Post by Datelessman Mon Nov 22, 2021 3:07 pm

That's an interesting theory. In fairness, I do think DNL does address this when he often advises people not to focus like a Jedi on dating per say, but on "living their best lives, being their best selves, doing their hobbies/interests or finding them" and then "running into their fellow travelers". He often tells people to ditch the club/bar/OLD scene if it is driving them nuts and focus on themselves; both to heal and to have "nature take its course." He notes the odds of finding decent lovers increases with "warm approaches" which favors stuff like you mentioned.

The downside is that it can take a while, and after long dry spells, a lot of people can get thirsty, impatient or cynical.

I honestly spent almost all of my teenage and college years basically "hanging around" various social circles of people who had shared interest and locations, and that never translated into dating. I never was crushed upon or ever had a young woman become romantically interested in me. At best, I became their boyfriend's wacky pal. And while that's fun and I value friendships (some of which I still have), it got old.

But, I do think DNL totally covers some of this. My only problem is that it often could be boiled down to, "it'll happen when it happens, and when you least suspect it, so be yourself" which is what everyone's mother says.
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Post by Hielario Tue Nov 23, 2021 8:37 am

I honestly spent almost all of my teenage and college years basically "hanging around" various social circles of people who had shared interest and locations, and that never translated into dating. I never was crushed upon or ever had a young woman become romantically interested in me. At best, I became their boyfriend's wacky pal. And while that's fun and I value friendships (some of which I still have), it got old.

Same here. I spent most of my university years hanging around with a lot of great people and it had absolutely no effect. It made me jump into online dating out of sheer desperation.

If anything, it creates additional problems.

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Post by Enail Tue Nov 23, 2021 2:58 pm

It's not surprising that dating advice would tend not to discuss it as much, because beyond just showing up places regularly and being friendly, and the kind of advice that applies to both those situations and less exposure-based ones, it's not one you can really do as much with  to make general positive exposure turn into someone being interested in you. There's more of a passive element of putting yourself in the position where interest has more chance to develop, rather than going out and actively hitting on people. But since that is what the biggest percentage of dating does start from in reality, focusing on the type of dating that rests more heavily on immediate action means that dating advice tends to lean towards things that have a lower chance of success.

One thing I think could use a little more advice focused on it is for is what you guys say, Datelessman and Hielario, for people who can make friends fine in that situation but don't land up getting seen romantically. And I think the fact that much of the advice for that would be exactly the wrong advice for anyone whose problems lean more towards actively putting people off, being seen as creepy, or generally struggling with social skills - and not everyone accurately identifies which category they're in -  means it gets addressed less/less well than it otherwise would.
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Post by Hielario Tue Nov 23, 2021 8:39 pm

And I think the fact that much of the advice for that would be exactly the wrong advice for anyone whose problems lean more towards actively putting people off, being seen as creepy, or generally struggling with social skills - and not everyone accurately identifies which category they're in -  means it gets addressed less/less well than it otherwise would.

I honestly think that you're articulating a false dichotomy here;  someone can have a loose group or environment that finds them somewhat likable as an acquintance/friend, and still struggle with all of those other problems. Even at my best social moments, I barely could keep afloat. There were so many things that made me into the week's joke or got me in trouble! Facepalm I ended up terrified of rocking the boat.

But otherwise, I agree with you that there's an absence of relevant advice.
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Post by Enail Tue Nov 23, 2021 10:49 pm

That's true, it's not in the slightest a question of neat categories, my point was more that the advice for some is actively unhelpful to others. Which I guess is true of most advice, I just think that one can be a particularly tricky needle to thread.
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Post by inbloomer Sat Nov 27, 2021 9:59 am

So, I think there is an active component to using the MEE. You can get better at sensing how open people around you are to interacting with someone new, and how far they're comfortable going on each occasion - often from very subtle signals. But that's tempered with the knowledge that properly getting to know someone takes a lot of time and has to be played as a long game - e.g. many women have a great, bubbly "meeting a new person" conversation ready in their back pocket, but they don't intend it to signal romantic interest.

It's absolutely a valid point about what people who keep having success making friends but never romantically can do. I do think many people find sex extremely hard to talk about, harder than the other tricky topics like politics, religion, money and health, so it's far from uncommon to build up an excellent, deep rapport with someone yet anything to do with sex is the elephant in the room no-one dares mention. The paradox is that the people who set themselves up as dating advisers by definition don't have a problem talking about sex, so they tend not to empathise that well with people who find it very challenging.

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