Curvilinearity (as opposed to angularity) has been shown to enhance creativity, comfort and relaxation and it’s a human preference for shapes. Nature is not angular. Feng shui strives to adopt to and imitate nature. In feng shui, flowing lines are preferred to straight lines (called cutting chi/energy). Feng shui tip: add more rounded and curved shapes and patterns to your home and workplace.
Curvilinearity versus angularity
Research on curvilinearity suggests that concavity in enclosed spaces provide feelings of safety (Weber, 1995), preference for curved rooms over rectangular rooms (Shepley, 1981), people are attracted to more curved segments (Hopkins, 1976), preference of curved pathways over straight (Hesselgren, 1987), use of natural forms (curves) has positive impact (Ulrich, 2000; Salingaros, 1998) and curvature in pathways evoke feelings of curiosity (Hesselgren, 1987).
Studies on contour bias confirm people’s preference for curved visual objects over angular ones (Silvia, 2009) where angular items trigger feelings of threat which induce disliking (Bar & Neta, 2006) and greater amygdala activation (Bar & Neta, 2007) compared to curved ones. Bar and Neta (2006, 2007) suggest that angles can metaphorically symbolise threat because sharp or pointy artifacts can be dangerous. In military architecture, square and rectangular towers were originally more common because these were much easier to construct and divide up internally, but later these towers were replaced by the more resilient circular shapes (Gibson, 2001; Gymple, 1996; Jones, 1987). In modern urban environments there is a prevalence of rectangular shapes. It has been suggested that “curves are perceived to be more beautiful than straight lines. Curves are more graceful and pliable, and avoid the harshness of some straight lines (Gordon, 1909, p. 169). So, why then are most man-made structures angular, if our natural preference is for curved? In one of the first experiments on angularity (Lundholm, 1921; Poffenberger & Barrows, 1924) researchers found that angular lines were associated with feelings such as furious, hard, serious, agitating – and curved lines had associated feelings of merry, gentle, quiet, sad and lazy. Later studies found that “curves are more serene, graceful and tender-sentimental. Angles are robust, vigorous and somewhat more dignified (Hevner, 1935, p. 398). Similar findings have been reported for typography: round letters are perceived as more pleasant and angular letters are perceived as more serious (Kastl & Child, 1968).
Nevertheless, research on patterns in design and fashion has not confirmed preference for curved designs (Carbon & Leder, 2005). Research on preference for curvature of popular car models dating between 1950 and 2000 suggests regular shifts in design preferences. This contradicts a unidimensional theory of evolutionary-based preferences and emphasises the role of sociocultural modulation triggered by fashion trends and the changing zeitgeist (Bohrn, Nabecker & Carbon, 2008). In contrast, one study on shape preference, found that triangles were the preferred warning indicators among the shapes tested (Riley, Cochran & Ballard, 1982).
‘life is probably round’ van Gogh
Empirical research on aesthetics found that angular shapes are perceived as confrontational, whereas rounded shapes tend to evoke compromise associations (Arnheim, 1974; Hogg, 1969). Long-standing debates on whether these aesthetic rules are universally applicable or culturally specific suggest they are both (Takahashi, 1995; Zhang, Feick & Price, 2006). Henderson, Cote, Leong, and Schmitt (2003) found that Asian consumers prefer rounder logos than angular logos; angular logos are preferred by American consumers, although it is not clear why there is such a difference in shape preference. Researchers suggest it is based on cultural collectivistic versus individualistic differences. Henderson et al. (2003) found that more collectivistic cultures prefer rounded shapes, whereas individualistic cultures tend to prefer more angular shapes.
Valentine (1950, p. 429) suggested that “the general preference for curves over straight lines may be something very fundamental and connected with the appeal of curves in the human form.” McElroy (1954) studied preference in Europe and United States among adolescent and adults participants, and found that men chose rounded, indented figures and women chose angular, protruding figures (McElroy, 1954). However, context can play a large role in preference (Aerts, Broekaert & Gabora, 2002; McGilchrist, 2010). Aronoff, Woike and Hyman (1992) argued in their study on preference for round versus angular shaped faces, that “The effect of physical features on attractiveness perceptions depends on the qualities that are sought” (Aronoff, Woike & Hyman, 1992, p. 1051). If harmony or wholeness is sought, rounded features are more attractive and when toughness and individuality are sought, angular characteristics appear more attractive. Iain McGilchrist (2009)’s seminal work on hemisphericity of the brain argues that our mental space is curved, rather than rectilinear as a result of the right hemisphere influence. The perception of wholeness may arise because “Circular motion accommodates, as rectilinearity does not, the coming together of opposites” (McGilchrist, 2009, p. 447). To sum up, in words of van Gogh (1888, p. 1), ‘life is probably round’.
From Determinants of Pavement Pattern Preference and Their Effect on Affective Appraisal, General Preference and Behavioural Intention by Jan Cisek
(Dissertation submitted to the University of Surrey in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Science in Environmental Psychology)