The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #109 — People Prefer Symmetry

Man with symmetrical face

Take any object—a photo of a face or a drawing of a circle or a seashell—and draw a line down the middle either horizontally or vertically. If the two halves on either side of the line are identical, then the object is symmetrical.

People rate symmetrical faces as more attractive. The theory is that this preference has to do with an evolutionary advantage of picking a mate with the best DNA.

Steven Gangestad (2010) at the University of New Mexico has researched symmetry and shown that both men and women rate people with more symmetrical features as more attractive. But symmetry isn’t only about faces: bodies can be more or less symmetrical, too.

So why do people find symmetry to be more attractive? Gangestad says it may have to do with “oxidative stress.” In utero, babies are exposed to free radicals that can cause DNA damage. This is called oxidative stress. The greater the oxidative stress there is, the greater the asymmetry in the face and/or body. From an evolutionary and unconscious viewpoint, people look for partners who have no DNA damage. Symmetrical features are a clue that someone has less DNA damage. As further proof, research shows that men who are rated more attractive have fewer oxidative stress chemicals in their blood.

So, when deciding what photos to use on your website, for example, choose pictures of people who are more symmetrical than less, since those people will be viewed as more attractive.

Measuring face symmetry — You can use a ruler to measure the symmetry of a face. Using the face at the top of this blog post as an example, you would:

  1. Measure the distance from the left edge of D1 to the centerline.
  2. Measure the distance from the right edge of D1 to the centerline. Write down the difference between the two lines. For example, if one side of D1 is .5 inch longer than the other side, write down .5.
  3. Take the same measurement for D2, D3, D4, D5, and D6. It doesn’t matter which side is longer or shorter. All your difference numbers should be positive—no negative numbers.
  4. Add up all the differences.
  5. The higher the sum of the differences is, the more asymmetrical the face. If the sum of all the differences is 0, then the face is perfectly symmetrical. The further from zero the total is, the more asymmetrical the face.

Gender differences — Men prefer symmetry in bodies, faces, and just about everything else, including everyday items, abstract shapes, art, and nature. But research by Kathrine Shepherd and Moshe Bar (2011) showed that women prefer symmetry in faces and bodies, but not as much as men for everything else.

  • If you’re designing for a primarily male audience, then pay special attention to symmetry, whether it’s in faces, bodies, natural or man-made objects, or product pages with TVs—try to use symmetrical objects and show them in an equal right/left and top/bottom view. Men will find symmetrical images most appealing.
  • If you’re designing for a primarily female audience, then symmetry in faces and bodies of people is the most important. You don’t have to be as concerned with making sure all the products are symmetrically displayed.

Why do people prefer symmetry in objects? — There might be an evolutionary advantage for preferring symmetry in a mate, but why do people prefer symmetry in objects? Some researchers have proposed that the brain is predisposed to look for symmetry, and so people see symmetrical objects faster and make sense of them faster. The theory is that this visual fluency with symmetrical objects makes people feel as though they prefer the objects. They may just find them easier to see and understand. But why this is true for men and not for women remains a mystery.

What about symmetrical web page designs? — Does the research on symmetry mean that your design should always be perfectly symmetrical? If you design a symmetrical layout, then you know that people will perceive it quickly and will more likely prefer it—especially if your target audience is men. On the other hand, if you go with an asymmetrical layout, then people will most likely be surprised by it. That may grab their attention initially, but the advantage of surprise and initial attention getting may be offset by fewer people liking it.

Here’s the research:

Gangestad, Steven W., Leslie A. Merriman, and Melissa Emery Thompson. 2010. “Men’s Oxidative Stress, Fluctuating Asymmetry, and Physical Attractiveness.” Animal Behaviour 80(6), 1005–13. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.09.003.

Shepherd, Kathrine, and Moshe Bar. 2011. “Preference for Symmetry: Only on Mars?” Perception 40: 1254–56.

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.



Posted in beauty, design, psychology, vision Tagged with: ,

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #108 — Our 5 Senses Are Swappable

picture of brainport deviceOver 285 million people are visually impaired in the world. What if they could see using their taste buds in the tongue rather than their eyes?

A woman who is blind puts on a pair of glasses that contain a camera. The image from the camera is sent to a small device about the size of a postage stamp that sits on her tongue. She feels a sensation like soda bubbles on her tongue—this is the camera signals being sent to electrodes on her tongue. This information then goes either to the visual cortex or to the part of the brain that processes taste signals from the tongue. The scientists who developed this technology say they aren’t sure which part of the brain is actually receiving the information from the tongue in this situation.The taste buds are seeing — The experience of the woman when her brain receives the signals from her tongue is that she sees shapes. The vision is not the same as normal sight, but she can see enough that she can better navigate her environment. People who are totally blind can find doorways and elevator buttons when they use the device, called a BrainPort. They can read letters and numbers and pick up everyday objects, for example, a fork at the dinner table.

The brain is learning — When someone uses the BrainPort at first, they don’t see anything. It takes fifteen minutes for them to start to interpret the signals as visual information. Interestingly, it’s not that they have to “learn” anything —it’s not that they are conscious of practicing. The brain is unconsciously learning to interpret the information as vision.

Design to augment — According to the World Health Organization, over 39 million are blind and 246 million have moderate to severe visual impairment.Over 360 million have disabling hearing loss. Until now, designing devices for people with visual, auditory, or other physical impairments has been an area that a small number of designers have worked on. The rest of the designers have been told to make their designs “accessible” so that the special devices (such as screen readers) are compatible and can use the mainstream technologies. Keeping accessibility in mind is always important, but now more designers will be directly designing devices that are specifically created to augment the impaired sense.

What do you think? Will these devices become more common? If you are a designer would you like to work in this field?


If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 



Posted in accessibility, adaptive interfaces, perception Tagged with: ,

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #107 — Laughter Helps Us Learn

Toddler smilingLet’s say you decide to let your 18-month-old daughter play some learning games on your tablet. You have a couple of apps you’ve downloaded and you’re trying to decide which one to give to her: The one that introduces number and letter concepts with music but is pretty serious? Or the one that makes her laugh with the silly animals that keep popping up and running around the screen?

Since you’re not sure that “screen time” is a good thing for young children, you choose the serious one. At least she’ll learn, you think.

Actually, the one that makes her laugh is the better decision.

Rana Esseily (2015) conducted research on babies as young 18 months old. There are many research studies that show that when children laugh, it enhances their attention, motivation, perception, memory, and learning. But this study was the first to try out the idea on children as young as 18 months old.

The children in the group who did a task in a way that made them laugh learned the target actions more than those in the control group who were not laughing during the learning period.Esseily hypothesizes that laughter may help with learning because dopamine released while laughing enhances learning. Other research points to the idea that it works on adults too!

Here’s the research:

Esseily, Rana, L. Rat-Fischer, E. Somogyi, K. O’Regan, and J. Fagard. 2015. “Humour production may enhance observational learning of a new tool-use action in 18-month-old infants.” Cognition and Emotion, 1-9 DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2015.1036840

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 



Posted in emotions, laughter, learning, psychology Tagged with: ,

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #106 — People Prefer Objects With Curves

Do people prefer logos with curves rather than logos with interesting angles? Have you noticed that your favorite smartphones, tablets, and laptops tend to have rounded corners?People prefer objects with curves—a preference that’s evident even in brain scans. This field of study is called neuroaesthetics.

Bar and Neta showed concrete and abstract images with and without curves to people, for example, the images below:

Moshe diagram

Moshe diagram (

People gave higher “liking” ratings to the objects with curves. Bar and Neta’s theory was that the sharp and angled images conveyed a sense of threat.

What about complex shapes? Silvia and Baron tested complex, angular shapes and complex shapes with slightly curved edges. Again, people preferred the objects with curves.

Helmut Leder Pablo Tinio and Bar (2011) asked whether this preference for curves was true for both “positive” objects (birthday cakes and teddy bears) and “negative”objects (razor blades and spiders). The results? People preferred curves in objects that were either positive or neutral, but there was no preference for curves in negative objects.

Curves stimulate the brain — Ed Connor and Neeraja Balachander took this idea into a neuroimaging lab.  Not only did people prefer rounded shapes, there was more brain activity in the visual cortex when they viewed shapes that were more curved and more rounded.


  • People prefer curves
  • If you’re creating a logo, incorporate some form of curve in the design
  • If you’re creating areas of color on a screen, consider using a “swoosh” or curved shape
  • If you’re designing actual products – such as smartphones, remote controls, medical devices, or other hand-held items – used curved surfaces.

Nike, Apple, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and dozens of other well-known brands use one or more curves in their logos. Did they fall into curves or did they do their homework?

Here are the research references:

Bar, Moshe, and Maital Neta. 2006. “Humans prefer curved visual objects.” Psychological Science. 17(8): 645-648.

Leder, Helmut, P.P.L. Tinio, and M. Bar. 2011. “Emotional valence modulates the preference for curved objects.” Perception. 40, 649-655.

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 



Posted in beauty, design, emotions, psychology, visual design Tagged with: ,

Apply For A FREE Engagement Evaluation

the word FREEWould you like to get FREE advice on how to create a more engaging product, website, or app? And help train the next generation of designers?

I am once again teaching a semester course at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, on “Design for Engagement” in the Web and Digital Media Development department. In the class we use “real life” case studies. A team of 3-4 students is assigned to a client. They perform an Engagement Audit and make suggestions for re-design.

If you have a project/product that you would like evaluated you can apply to be a team case study. If chosen you receive a free audit and you will be helping to train the next generation of designers.

What you should expect:

  • You will  spend about 2-3 hours a month for February, March, April, and early May working with your team. This will be via email, Skype and/or teleconference. You will be speaking with them about your website, software, or app, your target audience and goals and giving them feedback on the Engagement Audit report that they prepare for you.
  • At the end of the semester you will have suggestions for how to re-design your product so it is more engaging, and you will have some example mock-ups. Please note that you should not expect an entire re-design of your product and you should not expect actual progamming/coding.

Here are the requirements:

  • You have an existing or prototyped website, software, or app, in English.
  • The team can access the product or prototype.
  • You have time to meet with the team remotely, answer their questions and give feedback in a timely manner.

Here’s what you need to submit in an email to:

  • Your Name:
  • Your Contact Info:
  • Brief Description of the product/website/app etc:
  • Brief Description of your engagement challenges:
  • Instructions for how we can access the product:
  • Who the product is for — /users/visitors/intended audience:
  • What the users/visitors/intended audience want to do with the product:
  • What YOU want them to do with the product:
  • Anything else you think we should know:

Let me know if you have questions, and thanks in advance for submitting your product for a possible evaluation.

Posted in design Tagged with:

New Book Tour for 2016

photo of a deserted road

Want to host a Brain Lady keynote and/or workshop?

I’ll be going on the road in 2016 for a book tour for my new book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. We are looking for some sponsoring partners.

We’re flexible, but here are the basics — We are looking for companies and organizations that want to bring us in for a keynote or workshop internally, or who want to partner with us to host and help market a public keynote and/or workshop in select cities.

If you are interested, let us know: and we can talk details.

Posted in behavioral science, book

New Online Video Course: Be Your Own Boss

picture of a desk with an old-fashioned typewriter

Starting when my son, Guthrie, was about 8 years old I would talk to him about my consulting, teaching, and speaking business. He’d help me strategize about products and services, pricing, marketing, and sales. He was a great sounding board, and I was surprised that someone so young was actually full of good ideas.

Little did I know at the time that after a degree in Economics, another in International Studies, and then a Law degree, after working for BP, and a logistics firm and a law firm, and coaching people on starting small businesses, that he would pitch to me to come onboard my business as a part-owner. But he did, and I said yes. Guthrie started full time on September 1 of this year as my Chief Operating Officer. And now we have a new online video course. that we are co-instructors on.

It’s different than the other courses I’ve done before, so it may not be appropriate for everyone who reads the blog. It’s called “Be Your Own Boss: Start and grow your own small business.” It’s all about how to turn your passion into a small business and how to make sure it is profitable. The course fee is $145, but we are offering the course through November at a special price of $9.

Here is the coupon code:

which will take you to the course on  

In the course I handle the psychology/behavioral science/how to decide what you want to do part, as well as marketing and sales. Guthrie handles practical topics such as pricing, profitability, business management, and legal issues.

The course has over 5 hours of video, with quizzes throughout and exercises that you can send to us for feedback. ​

So if you, or someone you know, wants to turn their passion into profit, or has a small business and wants it to really take off, check out the course. You can start by watching some of the free preview videos.

Let me know if you have questions!


Posted in courses Tagged with: , , ,

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #105 — Video Games Increase Perceptual Learning

photo of video game controller

When my son was about 6 years old, we were shopping one day in a large department store when we walked by a section of demo video games. A group of 10-to 13-year-olds were intensely playing the games and my son was fascinated. I was one of “those parents” who didn’t allow any video games in the house. My son stopped to watch. Not wanting him to get too interested, and also being in a rush to get my shopping done, I said something like, “You don’t want to play video games. See, it’s scrambling their brains.” It’s one of the many nonsensical things that seemed to just come out of my mouth as a busy and distracted parent.

I started walking to the checkout lanes and then realized that my son hadn’t budged. But instead of staring intensely at a video game being played he was now staring at one of the boys playing the video games. “What are you doing?” I asked. My son turned to me and said thoughtfully, “He doesn’t look like his brains are scrambled.”

When my two children were growing up we never owned a game console, and I limited their video game time to “educational” games. My daughter never did become a huge fan of video games when she went away to college, but my son did and he still is.

Now, looking at the research, I realize I may have been wrong about video games.

Research shows that playing video games isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Training to play action video games increases the speed of perceptual process­ing and something called perceptual learning. It’s possible to train the senses—vision, hearing, motor skills—and improve their capabilities, especially with action games.

Brian Glass cites research studies showing that when people who are new to video games are taught how to play action games, they can process visual information faster as a result, even outside of the gaming context.

For many decades, it was assumed that the brain has the most flexibility and neurons at birth and that it’s basically downhill from there. There’s the old adage about not con­suming too much alcohol, lest it kill the finite number of brain cells you have. Another theory stated that brain structures became more rigid over time—that as people got older, their brains couldn’t be rewired.

This has all turned out to be untrue. The adult brain has neuroplasticity—its neural structures change and keep changing and learning. The skills learned from video gaming are an example of neuroplasticity.

In addition to the perceptual learning that action video games provide, research shows that strategy games (think StarCraft) can also improve cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to coordinate four things:

  1. What you’re paying attention to
  2. What you’re thinking about
  3. What rules to use
  4. How to make a decision

The more cognitively flexible you are, the higher your intelligence and psychologi­cal health.

So take a break from work and go improve your cognitive flexibility!

Glass, Brian D., W. Todd Maddox, and Bradley C. Love. 2013. “Real-Time Strategy Game Training: Emergence of a Cognitive Flexibility Trait. PLOS One, 7:8(8):e70350. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070350.

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 



Posted in gaming, perception, psychology Tagged with: , ,

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #104 — Shopping, Dopamine, & Anticipation

Picture of shirts on hangarsLet’s say that you’re the CEO of a large retail clothing brand. You have stores throughout the world, and you have a website. People buy shirts, pants, skirts, belts, and so on at your stores and at your site.

If you want people to enjoy the shopping process with your brand, and to be excited about buying your products, what should you do?

Let’s say your answer is: “I’m going to make shopping in the stores the best shopping experience possible. We’ll have in-store events, models wearing the clothes in the stores, and exciting sales. We’ll stock the stores with all colors and sizes, so people can be sure that when they come in, we’ll have what they want. I know that we have the online stores too, but if I am going to spend time and energy on one or the other, I’ll spend it making the in-store experience the best it can be.”

Good answer? Actually, no.

Excitement and anticipation — Robert Sapolsky is a neuroscientist who studies dopamine in the brain. He trained monkeys to know that when a light comes on that is a signal. The monkeys knew that if they pressed a button ten times, AFTER the signal (after the light comes on), then on the tenth button press, a food treat would appear.

Sapolsky measured the amount and timing of dopamine release in the monkeys’ brains during the cycle of signal—work (pressing the button)—reward (food treat). The monkeys received the treat as soon as they pressed the bar ten times. Surprisingly, the dopamine release started as soon as the signal arrived, and ended at the end of the bar pressing.


Chart showing dopamine release for monkeys pressing a bar to receive a food treat.


Many people think that dopamine is released when the brain receives a reward, but dopamine is actually released in anticipation of a reward. It’s the dopamine that keeps the monkey pressing the bar until the treat arrives.

In a second experiment the monkeys received the food treat only 50 percent of the time after they pressed the bar. What happened to the dopamine in that situation? Twice as much dopamine was released when there was only a 50/50 chance of getting the food treat.

chart showing that twice as much dopamine is released if the reward is only given half the time


It’s all about unpredictability and anticipation — In the third and fourth experiments, Sapolsky gave the treat 25 percent of the time or 75 percent of the time. Interestingly, when the treat was given either 25 percent of the time or 75 percent of the time, the dopamine release was the same, and it was halfway between the 100 percent and 50 percent chance of getting a food treat.


Unpredictability increases anticipation — When the monkeys got the treat all the time, a fair amount of dopamine was released during the pressing phase. When getting the treat was unpredictable, the amount of dopamine went up.In the 25 and 75 percent situations, there was actually more predictability. If the monkey got a food treat 25 percent of the time, it meant that they mostly didn’t get one. If they got a food treat 75 percent of the time, it meant that they mostly got one. Getting the food treat 50 percent of the time was the least predictable situation.

What’s this got to do with online shopping? — Ok, I realize that most of us are not monkeys. But our brains work a lot like monkeys. We react to anticipation and dopamine the same way. When you place an order for a product online, you don’t get the product right away. You have to wait. And in the waiting is anticipation.

In the report entitled Digital Dopamine, Razorfish presented results from interviews and surveys of 1,680 shoppers from the US, UK, Brazil, and China in 2014. From the report: “Seventy-six percent of people in the US, 72 percent in the UK, 73 percent in Brazil, and 82 percent in China say they are more excited when their online purchases arrive in the mail than when they buy things in store.”

The bottom line — Online shopping can be as exciting or more exciting as in-store shopping. Build in that anticipation.

For more info: — Sapolsky talks on video about the dopamine—anticipation research at

Razorfish Report: Digital Dopamine (

This topic is one of the 100 Things in my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 



Posted in anticipation, psychology Tagged with: , , ,

100 MORE Things

Cover Of New BookSome of you who read my blog may know about my book 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. The book came from a series of blog posts by a similar name that I started several years ago. Thank you to everyone that helped that book be as successful as it has been.

You may or may not have noticed the last few blog posts that I’ve written:

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder’s Age, Gender, And Geography

The Best Way To Process Big Data Is Unconsciously

People Read Only 60% Of An Online Article

These have been from my NEW book that has just “hit the shelves” (and the online distribution channels too!). It’s 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. It’s all new stuff, and most of it is from research that has come out since the first 100 Things book was written.

I hope you check it out and I hope you enjoy it. If you do read a copy please consider writing a review at Amazon.

And if you are interested in purchasing the book now, here’s a link, and thank you in advance!

Posted in book, psychology Tagged with: , ,

Subscribe to The Brain Lady Newsletter

Get news and research on behavioral science, brain science, and design. The FREE newsletter is created by Susan Weinschenk, "The Brain Lady".

Ask The Team W A Question

Please email if you have any questions or comments, we will be happy to help you out!

Learn More


Follow on Feedly


  • RSS Feed
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Google+

Contact Us

The Team W, Inc.
625 N. 4th Avenue
Edgar, WI 54426

Susan Weinschenk
Email Susan

Guthrie Weinschenk
Email Guthrie