You Have Far Less Free Will of Choice Than You Think

Love is a crazy thing, and we often act irrationally when we have feelings for someone, but we’re far more irrational than we even know. For most of my life, I believed in the idea of the perfect soulmate, and a lot of this came from growing up watching romcoms. I thought that fate brings two people together, and they’re meant to be together forever. In reality, most of our relationships happen due to convenience, and we don’t even realize it.

According to research, roughly 15% of people begin their relationships because they met at work, which makes it the second-most common way that couples meet. Then, there are the college sweethearts who end up getting married, and this accounts for about 6% of these relationships. What are the chances not only did fate help you find your soulmate, but they just happened to be someone you see regularly? Is it more likely that fate brought you together or that you’re more likely to be attracted to someone you see on a regular basis?

Well, based on what we know about human psychology, it seems to be the latter. In one famous study from 1992, social psychology researchers had random women attend their classes at different frequencies. These women were as similar as possible when it came to attractiveness, and they were simply used as part of an experiment. The researchers wanted to see if people found someone more attractive based on how many times they saw a person.

So, in one of the variables, the woman came to the class five times, another attended ten times, one attended 15 times, and the last woman didn’t attend at all. At the end of the semester, the researchers showed the students pictures of these women and asked them to rate their attractiveness. As expected, the woman they saw attend the class the most was rated the most attractive, and the ratings went down the less the students were exposed to the woman.

This is what’s called the mere exposure effect. Basically, we like things the more we see them. When something becomes more familiar, it becomes more attractive to us. What’s crazy is that this even works with art, shapes, and symbols. In another study, they flashed Japanese symbols in front of a person on a screen. Each one was shown for roughly four milliseconds, faster than the conscious mind can comprehend. In the second round of the study, they asked the people to rate the symbols as “pleasant” or “unpleasant”, and the people were more likely to rate the symbol they had seen before as more pleasant.

As a romantic, I hate being the bearer of bad news that your significant other isn’t your soulmate, and you probably only became attracted to them because you saw them more than other people. But I like to see the glass as half full, and I think this teaches us a lot about physical attractiveness in relationships.

I had a friend who kept dating the most douchebag guys, but they were all really attractive. Whenever she’d come across a really cool guy, she’d say, “I’m just not that attracted to him physically.” Well, now that we know about the mere exposure effect, we know a person can become more attractive to us. This is why you shouldn’t make physical appearance your top criteria for who you date. As you continue to see someone, they become more attractive. So, stop wasting your time with assholes and date someone who is cool that you can grow with. As you fall in love with their mind and personality, soon they’ll be the sexiest person you know.

But, we should also think about the implications this has on what we like and what we buy. How often have you been considering a big purchase and keep looking at it. Is it possible that you’re liking it the more you see it? We spend thousands of dollars on cars and TVs or even 100s of thousands on houses. Each time we look at it, the mere exposure effect shows that we’ll like it just a little bit more.

There’s not really a sure-fire way to avoid the mere exposure effect, but when it comes to decision-making, it’s something to be aware of. Although we love to think we’re in complete control and make decisions based on our rationality, that’s far from the truth. Free will is often debated in a variety of capacities, but if we’re not even in complete control of why we like what we like, how much free will do we actually have?


I’ve been working on organizing all the books I’ve read, and I have multiple lists of books on becoming a better thinker. There are lists for educationsocial issuescritical thinkingself-deception, and biases. For the rest of the categories, click here.

I’m always open for a conversation and to be shown what I might be missing or where I may be wrong, so feel free to email me at TheRewiredSoul@gmail.com

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