Spidey Sense? Or Tricks of the Mind?

Have you ever felt drawn to answer a certain way, despite knowing nothing about the information? Have you ever gone out of your way to use a certain brand of a product, despite never using that product before?

Image result for spidey sense comic

Those unexplained actions are probably due to the mere exposure effect and implicit memory. The mere exposure effect manifests as you preferring something that you’ve seen before, even if you don’t remember seeing it before. Think about going to the grocery store for the very first time after going to college. You desperately need toilet paper, but your mom isn’t picking up the phone and you have no idea what your family uses at home. You survey the aisle and eventually decide on a brand seemingly at random, but you later find out that that is in fact the toilet paper you use at home.

Image result for the incredibles coincidence i think not

As for a more scientific example, the article “Foolish Familiarity” posted by the Association for Psychological Science talks about a study conducted in which participants were asked to play a difficult and boring game. After that, the participants were told the next round would be for a prize, and then given the choice between two more games to play. One of the games had a very similar logo to the first game, and the researchers told the participants that they would likely lose and thus not get the prize. Despite that, the participants still chose to try their hand at the harder game with the similar logo due to the subconscious familiarity of the logo (https://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/obsonline/foolish-familiarity.html.)

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This is a classic example of the mere exposure effect. The participants likely did not closely examine the game logos before playing, and they had no knowledge of what the familiar logo game would be like, but they still chose to play it. They ignored the warnings from the researchers that they likely would lose the game and not receive the prize, and the mere exposure effect won out. Furthermore, the study showed that time pressure would increase this effect, highlighting the natural instinct of humans to choose what is familiar over what is better.

This study also connects to implicit memory. Implicit memory is the way that memory influences your behavior without you realizing it. So these participants most likely subconsciously remembered the logo, and even possibly tied the difficulty of the first game to the described difficulty of the second, similar game.

Implicit memory is also connected to a phenomenon called the “illusion of truth.” The illusion of truth is an effect of implicit memory in which claims that are familiar end up seeming more plausible or even true. In fact, in one study, participants were shown statements and asked if they were true or false. If the participant had been shown a false statement beforehand and even were explicitly told that it was false, they would still say it was true simply out of familiarity (https://exploringyourmind.com/illusion-of-truth/.)

That study is a perfect example of the illusion of truth, as the participants were explicitly told a statement was false, but would still say it was true later. I think it’s amazing how strongly the human brain latches onto familiar items and information despite blatant indications that that is not correct or the right and practical choice. I am absolutely positive that many of us, myself included, have answered incorrectly on a multiple choice exam because we’ve seen the one answer option that just seems so right but turns out to be so, so painfully wrong.

These articles perfectly illustrate the concepts of the mere exposure effect and the illusion of truth. I thought that the authors’ explanations of the concepts, along with the study examples to back them up, truly encapsulated these tricks that the human brain plays on us. I personally find it a little unsettling that my brain betrays me like this, but I do understand the base instincts that allowed for the mental adaptation to occur. Hopefully with our new cognitive psychology-approved study tips from class we can escape the mere exposure effect and the illusion of truth, but I guess we’ll find out!




6 thoughts on “Spidey Sense? Or Tricks of the Mind?

  1. natalieflorez

    When we were learning about this in class, I finally realized what the science was behind that familiar feeling I get when looking at something or trying to answer something. It is crazy how are minds will accepts something as true or correct just because it feels or looks familiar to us. it makes me think if Deja Vu has something to do with the mere exposure effect or the illusion of truth effect since we feel like we’ve lived a scene before because it feels familiar to us. Could something in the situation feel familiar trigger something in our implicit memories? I also wonder what the evolutionary explanation is behind this sense of familiarity. Could it have been useful in survival, pr would have been a source of downfall?

  2. autumnphipps

    I feel like the illusion of truth happens to me during every zaps lab. I read over the concepts and they are pretty similar, but I still get the answers wrong. This also happens to me on just about every test I take! My memory is definitely not the greatest. I have noticed that compared to high school, college gives options that you have seen before, which can really challenge us as students. I think this is good, I just wish that our high school teachers did not go so easy on us and prepared us more for this kind of thing. I found this very interesting and a good refresher on the course material.

  3. dzuleta

    I feel like this could be applied to more than just the trusted logo of a toilet paper brand. Perhaps implicit memory affects us in everything we are exposed to such as media and advertisement and that in turn affects our decisions and opinions of subjects. I find this to be especially true with news of certain events or people in which the source is widely known and thus deemed trusted enough so without any reason to answer for something, you are drawn to the similar opinions implicitly heard. It feels much more plausible to agree with an opinion when you have heard it before and it “makes sense.” This isnt as harmful if all it has to do with is whether or not shampoo brand will leave hair shiny and clean but it can be detrimental when it involves real world topics especially when proven information is brought up and rejected on the basis of previous information believed to be true.

  4. kpender2

    This makes so much sense and reminds me of a study conducted to a patient with amnesia. He would go to the doctors and when they doctor shook his hand he pricked him with a device. Every other tie he would see him and reintroduce himself to this patient . When he would reach out to shake his hadn’t, the patient automatically withdrew his hand but did not have explicit knowledge as to why, yet his implicit memory is what caused him to withdraw. It is super interesting how our brains can do things such as this for our own protection or precautions.

  5. dnewman

    This is actually so interesting. I definitely have had the experience of “choosing something at random” when it was in fact, not random. We keep so much information in our brains that sometimes we don’t even realize stored facts. I think it’s cool I can now understand why a brief exposure to something actually affects our behavior.

  6. jadeturner

    This is such an interesting post because I immediately thought to brand advertising and how they use certain colors to entice us to spend money on them. Makeup companies will use celebrities to show off their product and if we are a fan of that individual then we are more likely to cave in and buy it. We could not have ever heard of the makeup line or even know what the product is for, but if we feel a relationship with the person advertising, then we will feel that the product can be used for ourselves too. The same goes for multiple products across many different brands.
    With the illusion of truth piece, I feel as though that closely relates to childhood instances we try and remember later on and most of the time it is not the exact or correct instance. Which possibly can be due to someone telling you a version of that memory a few years prior.

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