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This is Your Brain on Curves
Thu Oct 31 2013 |
I got a new watch last Mother’s Day, a Raymond Weil with a beautiful mother of pearl dial, which I picked out myself. I started out look for my standard round dial but when the salesman suggested I try something new I decided on the rectangular face. So why, I’ve been asking myself for the past six months later, can’t I warm up to my new rectangular watch? Well, it looks like I finally found the answer in an article shared by one of my colleagues at the International Feng Shui Guild. According to the article “Why Our Brains Love Curvy Architecture” on FastCoDesign.com, people are far more likely to call something beautiful when its design is round instead of linear. It seems our brains may just be hard-wired to love the curve.
Time and again when people are asked to choose between an object that's linear and one that's curved, they prefer the latter. That goes for everything from architecture, to curly fonts (is that why I love Comic Sans?), to curvy cushions on couches, to dental floss with round packaging, and you guessed it, round watch faces.
As a Feng Shui practitioner I’m always recommending that my clients replace their hard angled furniture with curved pieces. And, I recently started consulting on a landscape plan for a campus that was a World War II airfield, where you can bet I’m recommending nothing but curves to combat the long runway-like walkways. But, it never occurred to me that my abrupt change from a round to a square watch face would make such a difference.
And here’s another example of how the Feng Shui requirement for curves has some science behind it - neuroscientists have shown that this love of the curve isn't just a matter of personal taste, it's part of our basic brain chemistry. A research team led by psychologist Oshin Vartanian of the University of Toronto at Scarborough compiled 200 images of interior architecture. Some of the rooms had a round style, while others had a rectangular shape. The researchers put their subjects in a brain imaging machine, showed them the pictures, and then asked them to label each room as "beautiful" or "not beautiful." They reported that participants were far more likely to consider a room beautiful when it was filled with curves rather than straight lines. Twice as many women as men took part in the study, but the preference for roundness seemed to be universal.
The researchers also found that people looking at a curved design had significantly more activity in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex, compared to people who were looking at linear decorations. This brain area has many cognitive functions, including its involvement in emotion, causing the researchers to suggest that curved designs use our brains to “tug at our hearts.”
"Our preference for curves can not be explained entirely in terms of a 'cold' cognitive assessment of the qualities of curved objects," says Vartanian. "Curvature appears to affect our feelings, which in turn could drive our preference."
Another brain imaging study, conducted several years ago by Moshe Bar and colleagues of Harvard Medical School, found that viewing objects with sharp aspects - like couches with pointed edges and watches like mine with a rectangular face - activated the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that processes fear. These researchers suggest that the reason human brains associate sharp lines with threats is that pointed objects have long signaled physical danger. Curves, by comparison, are seen as the absence of threat, and therefore harmless and safe.
Who knew that my brain would feel this way about a watch face?
Looks like it’s time to Feng Shui my watch face (pun intended). Guess it’s a good thing that Chanukah and Christmas are right around the corner.