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You might have had the experience of heading out for the night, feeling good, snapping a few selfies with friends that memorialize for all time how great your hair is looking. But the next day, you’re tagged in someone else’s photos and… yikes. How did you look so good in your photos and not in your friends’? Was that actually what you looked like all night?

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[♪ INTRO].

Maybe a number of us have had the experience of heading out for the night, feeling good, snapping a few selfies with your friends to memorialize for all time  how great your hair is looking. The next day, though, you’re tagged  in someone else’s photos and… yikes.

How did you look so good in your  photos and not in your friends’? Was that actually what you looked like all night? What happened?

Well, it could be the angle of  the photo, or the composition, or maybe your friend didn’t get your left side, which we tend to think is our good side. But it was probably related to exposure. And I don’t mean the exposure of the photo.

The mere exposure effect says  that just becoming familiar with something makes us like it more. For example, in one study of this phenomenon, researchers showed participants  photos of men’s faces, some of them repeatedly. 75% of the time, participants  preferred faces they had seen before. And when it comes to our own faces, we are more familiar with seeing them backwards.

Most of the time, we see our faces in the mirror, so what we see is reversed from what other people, and their cameras, see. The right side of your face looks like  it’s the left side, and vice versa. And that matters, because human  faces are not perfectly symmetrical.

Which means we see our asymmetrical features on the wrong side of our face. Maybe your crooked smile is higher  on the right than on the left. Or the corner of your left eye  droops instead of the right.

And that birthmark? What you actually see on one  cheek is now on the other. Now, depending on the manufacturer of your phone, when you take a selfie, you’re probably taking a picture  as if your camera were a mirror.

In the final picture, everything is flipped. So it looks exactly like what you’d expect to see after a lifetime of looking in the mirror. But when you look at a photo someone else took, you’re looking at yourself the way  the rest of the world sees you.

And those little asymmetries  are enough to produce a slightly different face than you’re used to. That’s why people tend to prefer  reversed images of themselves over images from someone else’s  perspective; it’s just more familiar. In a 2015 study of female  plastic surgery patients, 73% preferred looking at  mirror-reversed photos of themselves.

But this is not a thing to worry about. Just because you aren’t used to it doesn’t mean your friends think your un-flipped face is ugly. In fact, since our friends have more exposure to seeing our faces the real way, they tend to prefer non-selfie photos of us.

Now, as it turns out, the mere exposure  effect goes way beyond selfies. Some studies of the effect  presented people with words, where one word was more  commonly used than the other. In one study from 1960, participants reported that the more common word had a more pleasing sound 87% of the time.

And in a 1968 study of antonyms, people rated the more common words as representing something more  desirable 82% of the time. But words have meaning. So you might wonder: Do we  just use positive words like “encourage” and “comfortable” more often than words like “discourage” or “uncomfortable”?

Or is the cause and effect  actually the other way around? Does using certain words frequently  make them feel more positive? It seems like it might actually be the latter.

Familiarity makes us feel warm and fuzzy. Because the same effect happens  with line drawings, nonsense words, basic shapes, photographs, and sounds. Plus, animals demonstrate  the mere exposure effect too.

Baby chicks prefer tones they heard  when they were still in the egg. And the more times rats  are given artificial sugar, the more they get used to it, and the more they increase their consumption. Speaking of consumption,  scientists aren’t the only people using mere exposure effect.

Advertisers love it. One of the oldest tricks in  the marketing playbook is that repeated exposure to a product makes people feel more positively about it. But the mere exposure effect  can also be used for good.

For example, studies show that  it can combat racial prejudice. A 2008 study from Brandeis University showed that when someone is shown faces  of people of another race, their positive feelings toward  strangers of that race increase. Mere exposure can also help  with anxiety disorders.

Many therapists treat phobias and PTSD with systematic desensitization. This technique introduces a  patient to a series of stimuli that are more and more anxiety-provoking. So, if a patient has an amphibian phobia, the therapist might present  them with the sound of a frog, then a photo of a frog, then a toy frog, then a real frog in a cage,  then a real frog out of a cage.

The repeated exposures at each stage can decrease the patient’s stress response  toward the object of their fear. Both of these applications, by the way, work best under highly controlled conditions, so don’t go trying this at home. But what you can try at home is observing how the mere exposure effect affects the way we vote.

And not just for local and national elections, but also for really important things, like the Eurovision song contest. So you might ask yourself, do you  like a candidate or a contestant because they’re really awesome, or because you’ve seen  their face a bunch of times. And, another thing to note, if  you’re judging your own face, don’t be so hard on yourself.

And remember that when it  comes to how we look in photos, exposure is more than just the lighting. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych. Our Patreon, we have a Patreon now, it is newly independent, and better than ever.

So, you can show your love for psychology content, specifically, at If you are inclined, of course. Your continued support means  a lot to us, so thank you. [♪ OUTRO].