The mere-exposure effect is the well-documented psychological phenomenon that people tend to respond favorably to and think positively about anything they are merely exposed to regularly or are familiar with. I recently heard about it on an NPR story involved a study of parents’ perception of the educational system in our country. While a high percentage of parents had an unfavorable opinion of the educational system as a whole, they had a very favorable rating of their children’s school or the school in their community. Fascinating!
I think this effect has some applications, both positive and negative, for us as Christians.
On the positive side, while many people in our country may have an unfavorable attitude toward the institutional church as a whole, they may be more receptive to regular personal contact from individual Christians who talk to them on the street, wave hello, stop by to drop off some food when they are sick, etc. This is an opportunity for us to be a friend and a good example of what the Christian life is all about: loving one another on a personal level because of the love that God has shown to us in Christ.
On the negative side, one way in which the mere-exposure effect can work against us personally as Christians and as a whole in our society is that if we allow ourselves to be exposed over and over again to unhealthy, sinful and detrimental components of our society (pornography, drugs, swearing, for example), we can all too often become too familiar with them and gradually find them favorable or even enjoyable, which can lead us away from following Christ.
The Bible warns us about falling into this trap:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. —1 Corinthians 5:11
We need to do all we can to steer clear of and not be influenced by things in this world that are against God but have become “acceptable” to many.
As my dad taught me in confirmation class long ago, the best defense against falling into temptations such as this are wholesome friends, wholesome activities and the Word of God.
Good advice in these times of shifting mores.