December 4th, 2006
Experimental Social Psychology (PSYO 3082)
It has been found that people prefer their mirror image over their actual image due to the mere-exposure effect (Mita, Dermer & Knight, 1977). Zajonc (1968) theorized that people prefer things that they are exposed to more often. The present study has 30 participants that chose between a mirror image or an actual image of themselves and of a randomly selected partner. The results confirm a null hypothesis for choosing the mirror image of the self over the actual image (p-value = 0.6293) but reject the null hypothesis of choosing among the images of others (p-value = 0.0314), as two thirds of the participants chose the actual image of the partner. Future studies could take into account confounds of the control of the setting in the present experiment and also introduce the idea of choosing between images in motion instead of still images.
Familiarity covers a wide range of the senses from auditory familiarity and a preference to music that we know, to taste and olfactory senses and liking foods that we have enjoyed many times before. This also covers the visual sense in which what one becomes familiar with in what is seen, is preferred more. Zajonc (1968) gave the term “mere-exposure” to the idea that repeated exposure to a stimulus will create a preference toward it compared to a stimulus in which there has been no previous experience. Also, if there is more exposure to one stimulus than another, it seems that there is also a higher preference for it as well (Zajonc, 1968).
Looking at one’s face in photos or videos will often create a somewhat negative reaction on the part of that person. The face seen in the photo is not quite like the one regularly seen in the mirror. A photo is an actual image of how one looks whereas people often look in the mirror to see themselves and because faces are rarely ever symmetrical, there is usually a difference between the appearance of the two. Mita, Dermer & Knight (1977) found that people will often prefer their mirror image to their actual image whereas others will prefer the actual image of other people. Due to the mere-exposure effect, it is thought that what people are more familiar with or see more often is favored. Zajonc (1968) studied mere-exposure and concluded that repeated exposure of a stimulus enhances the attitude toward it. This has been covered over a range of different experiments in which the participants rated different sets of stimuli, such as common words, foreign words and Chinese symbols. These were all presented in different frequencies and it was found that the stimuli with the highest frequency also had the highest rating. These suggested results were taken further by Mita et. al (1977) who found that mere-exposure also applied to faces.
The purpose of the present study was to determine if there was a preference of mirror image to actual image when rating one’s own photo and rating the photo of another person who was not well known. It was hypothesized that, for the present study, there was be a null hypothesis for both conditions in which the participants will choose their mirror image half of the time and as well for the other condition, will choose the mirror image half of the time. This was based on the idea that the mere-exposure effect will not take place to a significant degree among the participants as most did not know the other participants very well.
There were 30 participants in the present experiment. All participants were students in the PSYO 3082 Experimental Social Psychology class at Dalhousie University. Participants were informed beforehand that they would be required to have their photo taken by the experimenter and participation was voluntary. Debriefing occurred after the experiment was completed.
Each participant had their photo taken by the experimenter which was then duplicated and made into a mirrored image. The photos were taken with a white backdrop and all of the participants were asked to look straight ahead and keep a neutral expression. The photos were printed on 8×11 paper in which both were placed side-by-side. The mirror-image appeared on the left side for all participants whose student numbers ended in an odd digit and on the right side for those participants whose student numbers ended with an even digit.
Day 1 consisted of taking the photographs. On Day 2, the participants were paired randomly by picking the student number of another participant out of a hat until everyone had a partner. Each participant were given their photos but were told not to look at them and to keep them face down. On the back of the sheet, they were to write their student number and “self” underneath, where it was to be indicated their preferred choice between the two photos. Each paired group of partners rated the photos sitting back-to-back so as to not to compare the faces on the photos to the partner’s actual face. The preference for the photos of the self were recorded first and then the papers were switched where the preference for the partner’s photos were chosen. Upon trading the photos, the participants were to not look at the blank side of the sheet as that’s where their partner’s response was written. They were to write “other” along with their response on the side with the photos.
46.7% of the participants (14/30) chose their mirror image to the actual image and 33.3% (10/30) chose the mirror image to the actual for their partner. The hypothesis for the mirror-image of the self was accepted (p-value = 0.6293) but was rejected for the mirror-image of the other (p-value = 0.0314).
The results show that the hypothesis for choosing the mirror image of the self was accepted as nearly half of the participants chose their mirror image. However, when choosing the preferred photo of the partner, two thirds of the participants chose the actual image which may be due to the mere-exposure effect, as Mita et. al (1977) has found. This suggests that there may have been a degree of mere-exposure to take place among the participants as it was predicted that since they knew each other only somewhat, only half of the participants would choose the mirror image. However, there was only a quasi-random assignment of the subjects into pairs based on how much they knew each other. Some of the participants may have been paired up with others that they knew thus potentially affecting the results.
Other potential confounds in this study involve the control of the setting. Some participants looked at the photos for longer than others and thus time was not regulated. This was due, in part, to the difficulty of enforcing looking time for a sheet of paper as opposed to using a computer, which also could have prevented possible peeking of photos before the experiment began. Also, due to the setting of the experiment, the presence of other participants during the duration of the data recording process may have been distracting. The photos themselves were not symmetrical for features that could have been controlled such as words on clothing, asymmetrical hair-styles and the presence of piercings. When looking at an actual and its mirror image side-by-side, these features may have been evident and thus may have influenced the choice. Mita et. al (1977) used deception in which two photos were taken and one was flipped into a mirror image so that the participants would expect two photos but would not know that one was a mirror image. The present study had only one photo taken and the participants knew that, in addition to the original photo used for the experiment, a mirror image would also be used. This would have created expectations on the part of the participants that a mirror image was present and by knowing about the mere-exposure effect, could have attempted to sway their choice to that which would support the known findings. If the participants knew which photo was the mirror image for the other person, they might have opted to choose the actual photo because that’s what previous findings show.
With the knowledge of prior evidence and the presence of a mirror image, participants may have taken this into account as well when choosing the self photo. In the Mita et. al (1977) study, significantly more than half of the participants chose their mirror image over their actual image. Along with previously mentioned confounds, this may be due to an increase in personal photo media in which, compared to 30 years ago, people see their actual images more often with the use of digital cameras and camera phones. This may have caused the mere-exposure effect to work in reverse in which people become used to their actual image as much as their mirror image. It is also interesting to note, as well, that one is used to looking at a mirror image in motion whereas most photos seen of one’s actual face are that of static images. Had this experiment tested images in motion instead of still images, the results may have been different since images in motion may be perceived another way.
With these results partly disagreeing with past findings, it may be beneficial to take into accounts the present confounds as well as new ways of presenting stimuli as it applies to current use of photo images. With the ability to see one’s face in a larger array of possibilities besides a mirror, reliably testing how much self-exposure there is to one’s actual face compared to their mirror image should be at the forefront of future studies on the subject. This could be tested by using images in motion instead of static images. With these results and future studies, it will be interesting to determine the effect that everyday photo media such digital cameras, webcams, camera phones and other forms of image recording, has on mere-exposure of one’s own image.
Mita, T.H., Dermer, M. & Knight, J. (1977). Reversed facial images and the mere- exposure hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(8), 597- 601.
Zajonc, R.B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2), 1-27.
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