Implicit and Explicit Evaluation of Visual Symmetry as a Function of Art Expertise

Hanna Weichselbaum, Helmut Leder, Ulrich Ansorge

In perception, humans typically prefer symmetrical over asymmetrical patterns. Yet, little is known about differences in symmetry preferences depending on individuals’ different past histories of actively reflecting upon pictures and patterns. To address this question, we tested the generality of the symmetry preference for different levels of individual art expertise. The preference for symmetrical versus asymmetrical abstract patterns was measured implicitly, by an Implicit Association Test (IAT), and explicitly, by a rating scale asking participants to evaluate pattern beauty. Participants were art history and psychology students. Art expertise was measured using a questionnaire. In the IAT, art expertise did not alter the preference for symmetrical over asymmetrical patterns. In contrast, the explicit rating scale showed that with higher art expertise, the ratings for the beauty of asymmetrical patterns significantly increased, but, again, participants preferred symmetrical over asymmetrical patterns. The results are discussed in light of different theories on the origins of symmetry preference. Evolutionary adaptation might play a role in symmetry preferences for art experts similarly to nonexperts, but experts tend to emphasize the beauty of asymmetrical depictions, eventually considering different criteria, when asked explicitly to indicate their preferences.

Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501001 General psychology, 501011 Cognitive psychology
Portal url