While most of us feel pain if we’re pricked by a needle, or taste sourness sucking a lemon, scientists understand less about how we’re affected by what we see. This is because seeing is a much more complicated activity. It involves shape, dimension and colour in a three-dimensional context with multiple object associations that are changing over time.
We know that certain works of art make us feel certain emotions. The Mona Lisa by Da Vinci is admired because her smile has a calming effect on us, for example, while The Scream by Munch makes us anxious.
We also know that some colours and shapes influence our emotions. We already use these insights in design and in commercial advertising. The colour red arouses us for example, drawing attention to the object in question. This is why Coca Cola cans and many lipsticks are red – not to mention danger signs.
Spot the pattern
The study carried out by myself and Meixuan Chen, a research student, involved two stages. In the first stage, we tested ten pairs of patterns on 20 participants. This may not sound like a big group, but you have to appreciate that we tested each participant for a number of hours. The findings correlated across over 80% of them, a big majority, which in this kind of study is considered enough to draw conclusions about the population as a whole.