Familiarity effect: How people prefer familiarity over novelty

The familiarity effect indicates that we value familiar people, places, and other things more positively than the ones that we are not familiar with. Various studies explore this effect by making people rate familiar and non-familiar objects in various situations. This article explores those studies.

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1st study: The longer it's shown - the more positively it gets rated

A study from 2016 explored the familiarity effect by studying how the time duration during which you are exposed to something (getting more familiar with it) affects how positively you rate it. During the study, over 200 participants had to rate Chinese ideographs (characters) that were shown to them for different periods of time:

  1. Participants were given 10 seconds to watch 20 Chinese ideographs one at a time.
  2. Then those 20 ideographs were split into two groups. Each group contained 10 old ideographs and 10 new ones that participants haven't seen before. 
  3. During the next part of the experiment, participants were shown a very fast slide show. One group of ideographs was shown 35 times while the other one only once. 
  4. The participants were given time to look at all 20 of the ideographs and rate their likability and familiarity. 

The results of the study showed that participants rated familiar ideographs about 17 percent more positively compared to the ones that they had rated as not familiar.

This study establishes evidence that time alone during which you are exposed to something can make you rate it more positively compared to the other options due to the familiarity effect. 

2nd study: Familiarity effect influences our price judgments

Another study explored the familiarity effect, this time in regards to its ability to influence our choices that are related to prices and odds. Over one hundred participants had to set a price on a bet in three different conditions to win 20 dollars:

  1. A bet that they'll pull out a red ball from a bag that had one red ball and one green ball in it.
  2. The same scenario about pulling out a red ball but the bag's contents were not mentioned. 
  3. During the third condition, participants were introduced to both options and had to set a price on both bets separately.

The results of the study showed that:

  • When people were shown both conditions, they were willing to bet about 14 percent more (from 8.53 to 9.74 dollars) for the first option in which the odds to pull a red ball out of the bag were clear (50 percent).
  • The average bet price increased by more than 10 percent when both options were presented instead of when only one of them at a time
  • When two options were shown not together, the effect was diminished in this experiment, indicating that comparison plays a big role in the familiarity effect.


Just being more familiar with one choice creates a biased effect that pushes us towards it, at least to some extent. These studies show that the familiarity effect can influence our opinions, decisions, and attitudes without us even noticing.