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The authors suggest that mere attention increases the perceived severity of environmental risks because attention increases the fear and distinctiveness of attended risks. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were exposed to images of multiple environmental risks, with attention repeatedly oriented to a subset of these risks. Participants subsequently perceived attended risks to be more severe, more frightening, higher priority, and more distinctive than control risks. In Experiments 3 and 4, spatial cueing manipulations were used to briefly draw attention toward some risks and away from others. In Experiment 3, a briefly flashed rectangle drew attention toward one side of a computer screen just before 2 images depicting different risks appeared: 1 image near to where the rectangle appeared and 1 further away. In Experiment 4, incidental attention was cued toward some risks by giving participants an unrelated letter search task that required them to briefly attend near that location. Participants in Experiments 3 and 4 selected cued (attended) risks as more severe, distinctive, and frightening than noncued risks. Across experiments, serial mediation analyses indicated that the effect of the attention manipulation on severity was mediated by the effect of attention on fear which was mediated by distinctiveness. Across experiments, we equated duration of exposure to risks and sought to minimize demand characteristics. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
We propose and support a salience explanation of exposure effects. We suggest that repeated exposure to stimuli influences evaluations by increasing salience, the relative quality of standing out from other competing stimuli. In Experiments 1 and 2, we manipulated exposure, presenting some stimuli 9 times and other stimuli 3 times, 1 time, or 0 times, as in previous mere exposure research. Exposure increased liking, replicating previous research (Zajonc, 1968), and increased salience, made evaluations more extreme, and made stimuli more emotionally intense. Across experiments, results of multiple mediation models and a causal chain of experiments supported the idea that salience explains these exposure effects. Fluency and apprehension, two constructs that have been invoked to explain mere exposure, accounted for less of these effects according to the mediation models and the chain of experiments. We next manipulated relative exposure and absolute exposure orthogonally, finding that relative exposure increases liking more than absolute exposure. Stimuli presented 9 times were liked more when other stimuli in the context were presented less than 9 times than when the other stimuli were presented more than 9 times (Experiment 4). Whereas absolute exposure had no significant effect in Experiment 4, relative exposure increased liking, extremity, and emotional intensity. In Experiment 5, a direct manipulation of salience increased liking, evaluative extremity, and emotional intensity. These results suggest that salience partially explains effects previously attributed to absolute “mere” exposure.