Preference for symmetry is a robust bias found throughout the animal kingdom. In humans, the bias for symmetry has been documented in numerous domains, including faces and visual patterns. The function of this potent aesthetic bias still eludes us, but prominent accounts focus on its role in mate selection and perceptual fluency. Previous studies have shown that both males and females find symmetrical faces to be more attractive, but here we show that the preference for symmetry in neutral stimuli (ie everyday and meaningless visual objects) is, on the other hand, unique to male participants. Our findings indicate that symmetry preference cannot be explained exclusively by perceptual or computational efficiency, because such an account is domain-independent yet females did not show any bias for the objects tested here. Further studies are needed to elucidate the utility of the male preference for visual object symmetry.
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[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Experimental psycho-aesthetics—the science aimed at understanding the factors that
determine aesthetic experience—is reviewed briefly as background to describe the Parallellepipeda
project, a cross-over project between artists and scientists in Leuven. In particular, I sketch how it
started and developed further, with close interactions between the participating artists and scientists.
A few examples of specific research projects are mentioned to illustrate the kind of research questions
we address and the methodological approach we have taken. We often found an effect of providing
participants with additional information, a difference between novice and expert participants, and a
shift with increasing experience with an artwork, in the direction of tolerating more complexity and
acquiring more order from it. By establishing more connections between parts of an artwork and
more associations to the artwork, it becomes a stronger Gestalt, which is more easily mastered by
the viewer and leads to increased appreciation. In the final part of the paper, I extract some general
lessons from the project regarding a possible new way of doing psycho-aesthetics research, which
is able to solve some of the problems of traditional experimental psycho-aesthetics (eg, trade-off
between experimental control and ecological validity).