Mere-exposure effect

The time has come again.

It’s that time of the year when families gather for reunion dinners, when extended families from far-flung corners of Singapore meet in one central place for the annual “oh-how-have-you-been – when-are-you-getting-married – have-you-gained-some-weight – conversations”.

Those events usually never pass without the obligatory gather-everyone-in-one-shot photo taking opportunity (I am speaking from experience here).

Once you do spot yourself in the resulting photo, however, your enthusiasm (if any in the first place) plummets.

“Eeeiih, why do I look so strange / ugly / thin / bloated / grumpy / cheery?”

Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in experiencing that disappointment.  Most of us do.

Blame it on the mere-exposure effect (mind you, that has nothing to do with exposing yourself to the lens of a camera or a phone or both – which you should never do – or at least not in the presence of family members).

It is simply one of the sturdiest findings in modern psychology.  Across hundreds of studies and meta-studies, subjects around the world prefer familiar shapes, landscapes, consumer goods, songs, and human voices.

And as such we are also biased towards the familiar version of the thing we should know best in the world: our own face.

Because you and I are used to seeing our countenance in a mirror, studies confirm, we often prefer this reflection over the face we see in photographs.

Our subconscious does more work than we give it credit for, and drives the ‘facts’ which we accept in product design, brand development, fashion, food, investing 1), and even what constitutes ‘beauty’ – our “beauty”.

Now what is the problem with that “beauty” in the mirror?

That image we have of ourselves is downright false and incorrect.

What do you see?

You see your face of course, and perhaps even your entire body.  However, you are seeing yourself with the sides reversed: Left is right and right is left.  Then there is the actual mirror itself: The colour reflection is never a 100% true reflection of you and there is always a degree of distortion, not visible to the conscious mind.

In other words: You have never really seen yourself for who you truly are.

Let that thought sink in for a while.




It could mean that friends and family do see you in a different light – a much more positive light – than you see yourself.

Or it could mean that you have to continue to work on your “Thick Face Abilities”.  This is a combination of the Asian concept of face (i.e. saving face) and the western concept of thick skin. Meaning a self-image that allows you to brush off criticism.

If you are willing to have people not like you (preferably outside your direct family circle, of course), you will go far in life.

Believe in yourself.

What you believe about yourself, the world will believe about you.  Sooner or later.

The most valuable thing you can ever own is your image of yourself as a winner in the great game of life, as a contributor to the betterment of humankind, as an achiever of worthy purposes.  Uukhai!

For a start I do believe in having a gorgeous ‘Year of the Rooster’ ahead that gets everyone closer to achieve their systems that they believe in.

Join me.


Still cannot escape that photo opportunity?

Then at least choose to present your left cheek to the camera instead of the right one.  People’s left cheeks are generally seen as more attractive than their right, a western psychology study has found.



1) many investors tend to invest in securities of domestic companies merely because they are more familiar with them despite the fact that international markets offer similar or even better alternatives.

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