The Neuro-Aesthetics of Hillary’s Campaign Logo

logo for Hillary campaign

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?


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: #45 — You Choose (And Vote For) The First One On The List

ballotIt’s almost election time here in the USA, and there are many hotly contested elections at local, state, and national levels. Who will you vote for? According to the research, you are likely to vote for the first person that appears on the ballot!

The order effect — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?, I write about the “order effect”. You go to a website to buy a tent for camping. You answer some questions about the type of camping you plan to do. The site then recommends four tents that best match your use, and compares the tents based on 10 attributes (how waterproof they are, how much they weigh, how much air ventilation they have, and so on). Two of the tents are “best buys” for the attributes that are important to you. Which tent will you buy?

Order effect at websites –– Felfernig (2007) set up a research study to find out. Even though there were 10 attributes that the tents were compared on, participants focused only on two or three attributes. The researchers varied the order in which the tents appeared on the page: first, second, third, or fourth. It turns out that the most important attribute was not whether the tent was waterproof or if it had plenty of air ventilation. The most important attribute was the order in which the tents appeared on the page! Participants disregarded attributes and simply picked whichever tent was the first one to show. People picked the first tent 2.5 times more than any other. They chose the first tent 200 times; they chose the other three tents (combined) only 60 times. This is an example of the order effect.

We rationalize the choice — The participants explained their choice, however, based on the logical decisions they thought they were making. For example, they explained the choice of tent #1 by saying, “This tent is the most waterproof.” They thought they were weighing all the attributes of all the tents, but in reality they were considering only a few attributes, and even those attributes didn’t matter. All that mattered was an unconscious reaction to which tent showed up first.

The first name on the ballot – According to research by Marc Meredith and Yuvall Salant, the same order effect influences who you vote for. In a wide range of elections, and with order randomized for different elections, Meredith and Salant found that in one out of every 10 elections, the first name on the ballot will win just because it’s first. They also calculated that being in the middle of the list lowers your chance of winning by 2.5 percentage points.

So which position candidate are you going to vote for!

Thanks to the blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree for drawing my attention to this research.

For more information on the Meredith and Sulant research: Kellogg Insight Focus On Research

For the tent research:

Felfernig, A., g. Friedrich, B. Gula, M. Hitz, T. Kruggel, G. Leitner, R. Melcher, D. Riepan, S. Strauss, E. Teppan, and O. Vitouch. 2007. Persuasive recommendation: Serial position effects in knowledge-based recommender systems. In Persuasive Technology, Second International Conference on Persuasive Technology. New York: Springer.


Did you find this post interesting? If you did, please consider doing one or more of the following:

add your comment
subscribe to the blog via RSS or email
sign up for the Brain Lady newsletter
share this post