May 18, 2024

Enhancing Likability: Researchers Uncover the Power of Small Changes in Pictures

Exploring the factors that contribute to our aesthetic preferences, a team of researchers at the University of Toronto has discovered that minor modifications to the lines and contours in a picture can significantly increase its likability. Led by Dirk Bernhardt-Walther, an associate professor in the department of psychology at the university, the study sheds light on the psychological mechanisms behind our perception of beauty.

In the research published in Psychological Science, Bernhardt-Walther and Ph.D. student Delaram Farzanfar asked 75 participants to rate their preference for line drawings of complex scenes. The team then used a statistical model to determine the importance of contour properties, including orientations, curvature, junctions, and symmetry, in measuring the aesthetic appeal of the drawings.

Using the predicted appeal of contours, the researchers generated two versions of each drawing by selectively removing certain contours. One version was projected to be more likable than the other. When the manipulated drawings were presented to a new set of 77 participants, as expected, they favored the version predicted to be more appealing, even though both versions depicted the same scene.

Bernhardt-Walther emphasizes the significance of the measured and manipulated properties, stating, “We show that by selecting certain contours in an image based on these properties, we can make people like an image more or less.”

While previous studies have explored the aesthetic valuation of images, Bernhardt-Walther argues that these studies examined images as a whole, overlooking the shapes and spatial relationships within them. This study, however, takes a different approach by focusing on the properties of contours and their impact on perception.

The researchers developed a set of algorithms called the Mid-Level Vision Toolbox, which enabled them to predict and confirm that structural regularities in an image enhance its likability. Specifically, the presence of T junctions, created by intersecting horizontal and vertical lines, was found to elevate the attractiveness of a picture.

Bernhardt-Walther believes that the regularity of lines and shapes in a picture may invoke a sense of psychological safety in viewers. Arrangements that are familiar and geometrically coherent are more likely to be preferred.

This research has significant implications for various professionals, including marketers, designers, and architects, who can utilize the findings to enhance their work. By understanding the scientific basis of aesthetic preference, evidence-based interventions can be developed to improve subjective well-being and social connectedness. As Delaram Farzanfar, a registered psychotherapist and co-author of the study, states, “The scientific study of aesthetics can help us develop evidence-based interventions for improved subjective well-being and social connectedness.”

In conclusion, the study conducted by the University of Toronto researchers delves into the power of minor modifications in pictures to increase their likability. By selectively manipulating contour properties, such as orientation, curvature, junctions, and symmetry, the researchers demonstrated how certain image characteristics can significantly influence our aesthetic preferences. This research contributes to our understanding of the psychological mechanisms behind our perception of beauty and offers opportunities for various professionals to improve their work through evidence-based interventions.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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