Quick question: What is the number one cancer killer of women? No, it is not breast cancer, it is not uterine cancer, it is not cervical cancer, and it is not ovarian cancer. The number one cancer killer of women is lung cancer. In fact lung cancer kills more women than all the others combined. Were you surprised? Most people are. But why do most people believe the number one cancer killer is breast cancer?
The reason is the Mere Presence Effect. This social psychological term describes the brain’s willingness to believe a lot of something exists in society if it sees it often. When was the last time you saw an advertisement support research on lung cancer in women?
Here are some other influences of the Mere Presence Effect. What percentage of our society is made up of homosexuals? Many students in my classes give answers as high as 30%, or thirty out of 100 Americans are homosexual. The actual answer is around 2%, or two out of a 100. Why the difference in beliefs? We see so much about homosexuals on TV and in the news, especially with same-sex marriage.
Is it better to cohabit to see if you are compatible, and then marry? TV shows people happily cohabiting together, but usually shows married people as unhappy. Cohabiting will lower one’s divorce rate, according to many people. They are wrong. We have no research that shows cohabiting lowering the divorce rate. In fact, those who cohabit will have a higher rate of divorce if they do marry later. Just to clarify something, those who live together and don’t get married break up at a much higher rate than those who marry.
Here is a thought question. Why do politicians want to spend so much money on TV ads and other media? Part of the reason is the Mere Presence Effect. If they overwhelm you with more ads than their opponents, then your brain will believe that everyone else is going to vote for them, so you should too.
What parts of your beliefs are influenced by the Mere Presence Effect? Perhaps much more than you know. This scripture from Paul indicates some of the influence of the Mere Presence Effect on the spiritual lives of Christians.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Everyone in Paul’s world was living a pattern of unhealthy spiritual lives, but almost all believed their spiritual lives were healthy. Why? Because they saw everyone else living the same way.
Part of our challenge as Christians is to examine what is real and what is an unhealthy Mere Presence Effect. What do you think? Are you influenced too much by the Mere Presence Effect? Would you know a Mere Presence Effect if you saw one? It is time to study scripture as well as good research. They will give you a good indication.
Tom Kennedy, EdD