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Alexis Makin, Anna Pecchinenda, Marco Bertamini; Visual and emotional analysis of symmetry. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):812. doi: 10.1167/13.9.812.
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Visual symmetry is closely related to subjective beauty. We studied the links between symmetry detection and emotion, focusing on the question of when symmetry is emotionally evaluated. In one study, we found that symmetrical patterns speeded classification of positive-valence words, while random patterns speeded responses to negative words. This emotional priming effect was only apparent when participants explicitly attended and classified the patterns, and not when they attended to another dimension of the same stimuli (Bertamini et al., under review, Cognition). In a second study using the Implicit Association Test (IAT), we found that response time was faster in congruent blocks (when the left key was used to report symmetry and positive words, and the right key was used to report random and negative words), than in incongruent blocks, when the response mapping was reversed (random and positive, symmetrical and negative). This is a type of implicit preference for symmetry. Additional IAT studies found cases where implicit preferences diverged from preferences in an explicit rating task, but implicit preferences were always linked to visual salience (Makin et al., Emotion, 2012). In a third study, we measured electrophysiological responses to symmetrical and random patterns. These patterns produced different ERPs, which could be localized to activations in the bilateral visual regions. This symmetry-related ERP was most pronounced for reflectional symmetry (see supplementary material). The facial muscle responsible for smiling (Zygomaticus Major) was more active when participants viewed reflection than random patterns, however, this response was sensitive to task completion, rather than the simple presence of symmetry (Makin et al., 2012, Neuropsychologia). Putting all results together, we conclude that visual symmetry has positive valence which is linked to processing fluency. However, symmetry is only emotionally evaluated when it is attended to and classified, and not under passive viewing conditions.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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