Preference for Curved Contours Across Cultures

Article (PDF Available)inPsychology of Aesthetics Creativity and the Arts 12(4) · September 2017with 514 Reads 
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DOI: 10.1037/aca0000135
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Abstract
We postulate that humans' preference for curvature is an expression of a natural propensity for aesthetics, understood as a set of perceptual, cognitive, and affective abilities and biases that orient humans toward the sort of sensory features that are used to convey culturally relevant meanings. Here we investigate whether preference for curved contours, observed previously in Western large-scale societies, is also present in 2 small-scale societies relatively uninfluenced by Western culture. We asked participants from Oaxaca (Mexico) and Bawku (Ghana), and also from Mallorca (Spain), to perform a 2-alternative, forced-choice task consisting in choosing between photographs of curved and sharp-angled versions of the same real objects presented for 80 milliseconds. The task required minimal instructions, aiming to avoid confounds arising from translations. Our results show that participants in each of the 3 countries chose the curved-contour alternative significantly more often than the sharp-angled one (Spain: .59; Mexico: .55; Ghana: .58) and that these proportions did not differ significantly. We conclude that preference for curved-contour objects is common across cultures and conjecture that it is a constituent of a natural propensity for aesthetics. (PsycINFO Database Record
  • ... A particularly well-studied example is the preference of curved over angular objects or line patterns (Bar and Neta, 2006;Palumbo et al., 2015). This preference can be observed in different cultures (Gómez-Puerto et al., 2017) and was even demonstrated in great apes (Munar et al., 2015). Another example is the observation that the spatial frequency content of face images and their surround has an effect on ratings of face attractiveness (Menzel et al., 2015). ...
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  • ... Bar and Neta (2006, 2007, 2008 further suggested that this effect is caused by a primitive sense of threat when viewing sharp-angled contours because it triggers a negative response. Although the primary focuses of subsequent studies have not been directly relevant to this hypothesis, they have investigated the curvature effect using a variety of experimental methodologies (G omez-Puerto et al., 2016) in Western and non-Western populations (G omez-Puerto et al., 2018;Velasco et al., 2016) and nonhuman animals, such as apes (Munar et al., 2015). ...
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    Although objects with curved contours are generally preferred over those with sharp-angled contours, the strength of this preference varies according to several factors. In the present study, non-Western Japanese observers viewed and rated their preferences (e.g., liking or attractiveness) for real and meaningless objects with curved or sharp-angled contours. We varied the presentation time (90 ms vs. until a response was received) and the response measure (like/dislike vs. 1-100 rating scale). When using like/dislike ratings, a preference for curved objects was found only when images of real objects were presented briefly (90 ms), whereas this effect was reversed (i.e., increased preference for sharp-angled contours) when using the 1 to 100 scale under the until-response condition. In addition, the curvature effect was not observed for real objects when the like/dislike rating and the until-response condition were employed or when the 1 to 100 scale and 90 ms presentation time were used. The curvature effect for meaningless objects remained unstable regardless of presentation time or response measure. Similar to the preference for real objects, a preference for sharp-angled objects was observed when preference was measured using a 1 to 100 rating scale. Taken together, the present findings indicate that the preferences for curved objects were situation-dependent in Japanese observers.
  • ... Shapes with smooth curvature along their contours are preferred to shapes with more angular contours, as observed by both artists and psychologists (for the historical background, see Gómez-Puerto, Munar, & Nadal, 2016). This phenomenon is true for both familiar objects and abstract shapes (Bar & Neta, 2006;Bertamini et al., 2016;Silvia & Barona, 2009), it has been confirmed in different cultures (Gómez-Puerto et al., 2018) in children (Jadva, Hines, & Golombok, 2010) and in other species such as great apes (Munar, Gómez-Puerto, Call, & Nadal, 2015), and it has been measured also using implicit tasks of preference or approach Palumbo, Ruta, & Bertamini, 2015). ...
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    There is a long history of studies of shape preference using simple abstract two-dimensional shapes. The evidence has confirmed a preference for symmetry, high contrast, and smoothness over asymmetry, low contrast, and angularity. However, the evidence about the role of culture and expertise is inconclusive. We asked a group of 56 expert designers (studying at the IUAV) to draw seven objects on paper and for each provide two versions: a smooth version and an angular version. These stimuli therefore show everyday objects, freely chosen by the authors, drawn with novel shapes. Next, we presented these stimuli to nonexperts. We collected ratings for seven characteristics (“ugly/beautiful, dark/light, complex/simple, heavy/light, old/modern, dangerous/safe, and asymmetrical/symmetrical”) from naive observers (n = 174). The analysis of the rating data confirmed a link between smoothness and beauty as well as a few other associations. We made the database (772 images) including the average ratings openly available to other researchers.
  • ... The results of both experiments confirm the general effects that have previously been reported in the literature (Gómez-Puerto et al., 2015;Gómez-Puerto et al., 2018;Jacobsen & Höfel, 2002;Wilson & Chatterjee, 2005). As a group, participants liked designs with curved contours more than equivalent versions with sharp-36 angled contours, symmetrical designs more than asymmetrical designs, and their liking increased linearly with complexity and balance. ...
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  • ... At a group level, our results support previous findings on the effects of contour, symmetry, complexity, and balance on liking. People tend to like designs with curved contours that are symmetrical, complex, and balanced more than those with sharpangled contours, and those that are asymmetrical, simple, and unbalanced (G omez- Puerto et al., 2015Puerto et al., , 2018Jacobsen & H€ ofel, 2002; Wilson & Art interest Aesthetic sensitivity to symmetry (b) Figure 4. Aesthetic sensitivity to contour and aesthetic sensitivity to symmetry predicted by art knowledge and art interest (Experiment 1). Art knowledge predicts aesthetic sensitivity to contour (a), and art interest predicts aesthetic sensitivity to symmetry (b). ...
  • ... Shapes with smooth curvature along their contours are preferred to shapes with more angular contours, as observed by both artists and psychologists (for the historical background, see Gómez-Puerto, Munar, & Nadal, 2016). This phenomenon is true for both familiar objects and abstract shapes (Bar & Neta, 2006;Bertamini et al., 2016;Silvia & Barona, 2009), it has been confirmed in different cultures (Gómez-Puerto et al., 2018) in children (Jadva, Hines, & Golombok, 2010) and in other species such as great apes (Munar, Gómez-Puerto, Call, & Nadal, 2015), and it has been measured also using implicit tasks of preference or approach Palumbo, Ruta, & Bertamini, 2015). ...
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  • ... One of the sets of stimuli contained 36 pairs of images of real objects. This set has previously been used to study preference for curvature (Gómez-Puerto et al., 2018;Munar, Gómez-Puerto, Call, & Nadal, 2015), and is a subset of the stimuli created by Neta (2006, 2007). The set consists of pairs of objects people interact with in their every day lives: audio and video devices, remote controls, trays, baskets, jars, and so on. ...
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