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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Jan;102(1):149-62. doi: 10.1037/a0024949. Epub 2011 Aug 15.

Residential mobility breeds familiarity-seeking.

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Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400, USA.


Why are American landscapes (e.g., housing developments, shopping malls) so uniform, despite the well-known American penchant for independence and uniqueness? We propose that this paradox can be explained by American mobility: Residential mobility fosters familiarity-seeking and familiarity-liking, while allowing individuals to pursue their personal goals and desires. We reason that people are drawn to familiar objects (e.g., familiar, national chain stores) when they move. We conducted 5 studies to test this idea at the levels of society, individuals, and situations. We found that (a) national chain stores do better in residentially mobile places than in residentially stable places (controlling for other economic and demographic factors; Study 1); (b) individuals who have moved a lot prefer familiar, national chain stores to unfamiliar stores (Studies 2a and 2b); and (c) a residential mobility mindset enhances the mere exposure and familiarity-liking effect (Studies 4 and 5). In Study 5, we demonstrated that the link between mobility and familiarity-liking was mediated by anxiety evoked by mobility.

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