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.

 

 

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 (http://barlab.mgh.harvard.edu/publications.htm)

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.

Takeaways:

  • 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. 

 

 

The Neuro-Aesthetics of Hillary’s Campaign Logo

logo for Hillary campaign
hillaryclinton.com

Yesterday Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the US, and before 24 hours went by I had a media request to talk about why people were reacting so strongly (in a negative way) to her logo.

I’m in the middle of writing my next book (100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People) and I’ve just sent in the chapter on Visual Design which contains some new research on neuro-aesthetics — how our brain reacts to certain visual design elements.

Based on the research, here’s the brain science behind the vitriol:

People prefer objects with curves and you can even “see” the preference in brain scans. This field of study is called neuroaesthetics.

Moshe Bar (Director of the Cognitive Neurosciences Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital) and his team used images of everyday and abstract objects to see if people have a preference for objects with curves. In one of their early studies Moshe Bar and Maital Neta (2006) showed 140 pairs of objects. Some were concrete objects such as watches or couches (the A objects in the picture below), some were abstract objects (the B objects) and some of the objects had both curves and edges. These last objects acted as baseline controls (the C objects).

pictures of curved and angular objectsPeople gave higher “liking” ratings for the objects that had curves. Bar and Neta’s theory was that the sharp and angled images would convey a sense of threat.

Ed Connor and Neeraja Balachander took this idea into a neuro imaging lab. They took an abstract shape similar to the shape on the left in the picture below and then made a series of similar but elongated shapes as shown in the rest of the picture below.

picture of rounded and elongated shapes

Not only did people prefer the softly rounded shape like the one on the left — there was more brain activity in the visual cortex with shapes that were more curved and more rounded.

We could talk about the problems with red and blue on top of each other, which produces chromostereopsis too. I’ve got another blog post about that.

But from a brain science point of view, the main reason Hillary’s logo is getting a lot of negative comments?: NO CURVES!

If you’re interested in the research I’ve got some references below, and check out 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People  the new book which will be out in October of 2015 and is available for pre-order!

What do you think? No curves? Chromostereopsis? Something else?

References:

Bar, M., & Neta, M. (2006). Humans prefer curved visual objects. Psychological Science, 17(8), 645-648.

H. Leder, P.P.L. Tinio, and M. Bar (2011) Emotional valence modulates the preference for curved objects. Perception, 40, 649-655.

Paul J. Silvia and Christopher M. Barona, “Do People Prefer Curved Objects? Angularity, Expertise, and Aesthetic Preference”, Empirical Studies of the Arts 01/2009; 27(1):25-42.

100 Things You Should Know About People: #71 — People Like Pastoral Scenes

Landscape painting by Frederic Church
People Like Pastoral Scenes

Walk into any hotel, house, office building, museum, art gallery, or any place where there are paintings or photographs hanging on the wall, and chances are that you will see a pastoral landscape.

Looking for protection, food, and water — According to Denis Dutton, a philosopher and the author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, this is because of evolution and the Pleistocene era. (see Dutton’s TED talk: http://bit.ly/cIj9uo). Dutton says that this typical landscape scene includes hills, water, trees (that are good for hiding in if a predator comes by), birds and animals, and a path moving through the scene. This is an ideal landscape for humans (protection, water, food).

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #71 — People Like Pastoral Scenes”