"For reasons hidden in the foundations of the brain's architecture, a curve, because it suggests warmth and well-being and harmony, touches a more profound part of the psyche than a parallelogram...Maybe this is because a woman's breasts are generally not right-angled."
Thanks for that thought, Stephen Bayley, a British architecture critic and the former chief executive of London's Design Museum.
In fact, researcher Hannah found some compelling studies comparing our response to curved and angular architecture.
Oshin Vartanian and his colleagues slipped a group of people inside a brain-scanning machine and flashed hundreds of interior designs -- some curvy, some angular -- in front of them. They then had the choice of describing each room as either "beautiful" or "not beautiful."
The study found that participants overwhelmingly preferred interior spaces with curving coffee tables, meandering sofas and winding floor patterns to rooms filled with angular furniture and rectilinear design.
But here's the really juicy bit: Vartanian's brain scans showed that curvy designs led to a burst of activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region of the brain known to contribute to emotional experiences -- whereas rooms filled with sharp corners and perpendicular lines did not.
In other words, it looks like our brain circuitry comes pre-installed with an emotional attachment to rounded forms.
So why would this be? Paul Silvia, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, believes that a positive response to curves may spring from our relationship with natural environments. Between vast rolling hills and gently contoured flower petals, right-angles are a rarity in the great-outdoors."Curved buildings can point to nature, whereas angular buildings contrast with it," he says. "Instead of blending into the environment or evoking natural themes, they stand apart from it by using one of the few shapes you never see in nature—a perfect box."
Silvia also points out that we're all born attuned to human faces. As anyone who's ever held a baby knows, their large round eyes frequently trigger uncontrollable feelings of warmth, "Curved and rounded objects are so much more familiar that they seem more natural and 'right.'"
On the other hand, sharp objects can appear decidedly wrong. In "Visual elements of subjective preference modulate amygdala activation", Harvard Medical School researchers found that the amygdala, the brain's fear centre, is significantly more active when people view angular objects, such as a sofa with sharp corners or a square watch, than when looking at curvier alternatives. (Neuropsychologia, 2007, Volume 45, Issue 10, pp.2191–2200)“In terms of the basic visual cues that determine our preference towards mundane everyday object, we previously showed that a highly potent cue is the nature of the object's contour: people generally like objects with a curved contour compared with objects that have pointed features and a sharp-angled contour. This bias is hypothesized here to stem from an implicit perception of potential threat conveyed by sharp elements.Using human neuro-imaging to test this hypothesis, we report that the amygdala, a brain structure that is involved in fear processing and has been shown to exhibit activation level that is proportional to arousal in general, is significantly more active for everyday sharp objects (e.g., a sofa with sharp corners) compared with their curved contour counterparts. Therefore, our results indicate that a preference bias towards a visual object can be induced by low-level perceptual properties, independent of semantic meaning, via visual elements that on some level could be associated with threat. We further present behavioural results that provide initial support for the link between the sharpness of the contour and threat perception. Our brains might be organized to extract these basic contour elements rapidly for deriving an early warning signal in the presence of potential danger.”