A complex story: universal preference vs. individual differences shaping aesthetic response to fractals patterns
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AbstractFractal patterns offer one way to represent the rough complexity of the natural world. Whilst they dominate many of our visual experiences in nature, little large-scale perceptual research has been done to explore how we respond aesthetically to these patterns. Previous research (Taylor et al., 2011) suggests that the fractal patterns with mid-range fractal dimensions (FDs) have universal aesthetic appeal. Perceptual and aesthetic responses to visual complexity have been more varied with findings suggesting both linear (Forsythe et al., 2011) and curvilinear (Berlyne, 1970) relationships. Individual differences have been found to account for many of the differences we see in aesthetic responses but some, such as culture, have received little attention within the fractal and complexity research fields. This two-study article aims to test preference responses to FD and visual complexity, using a large cohort (N = 443) of participants from around the world to allow universality claims to be tested. It explores the extent to which age, culture and gender can predict our preferences for fractally complex patterns. Following exploratory analysis that found strong correlations between FD and visual complexity, a series of linear mixed-effect models were implemented to explore if each of the individual variables could predict preference. The first tested a linear complexity model (likelihood of selecting the more complex image from the pair of images) and the second a mid-range FD model (likelihood of selecting an image within mid-range). Results show that individual differences can reliably predict preferences for complexity across culture, gender and age. However, in fitting with current findings the mid-range models show greater consistency in preference not mediated by gender, age or culture. This article supports the established theory that the mid-range fractal patterns appear to be a universal construct underlying preference but also highlights the fragility of universal claims by demonstrating individual differences in preference for the interrelated concept of visual complexity. This highlights a current stalemate in the field of empirical aesthetics.
CitationStreet, N., Forsythe, A. M., Reilly, R., Taylor, R. and Helmy, M. S. (2016) A complex story: universal preference vs. individual differences shaping aesthetic response to fractals patterns, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10:213, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00213.
PublisherFrontiers Media SA
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience