You have likely encountered beauty today on several occasions, whether it was meeting an attractive person, interacting with pleasant objects, contemplating the façade of a building, or enjoying a meal. But have you ever wondered what these events have in common?
When we judge something as beautiful, our brain coordinates a series of neural systems responsible for experiencing pleasure. In other words, beauty generates pleasure in the brain. The pleasure of our everyday life experiences is key for neuroaesthetics, an emerging discipline that investigates how our brains respond to beauty and how our aesthetic experiences are shaped by biological and cultural factors.
Although historically understood as devoted to art and intellectual pleasures, aesthetic experiences have gained interest in fields ranging from the humanities, through the health sciences, to business. As such, businesses are increasingly interested in the role of aesthetic features in product design, advertising, marketing, packaging, interior design, architecture, urban planning, and security perception, among others.
But how can aesthetics enhance customer experiences and guide consumer choices?
Which shapes do you prefer?
Different objects evoke different emotions and associations in people. For example, research shows that we associate curvature and symmetry with positive experiences and beauty. Let’s do a quick experiment: Which one of the following shapes do you prefer?
Figure 1: Shapes varying in curvature. Which shape do you prefer?
While the two shapes are rather simple, people generally prefer the curved shape over the angular one. In a similar way, people tend to choose a symmetrical shape over an asymmetrical one. These preferences are not solely based on personal likes or dislikes; they also manifest when we ask individuals to indicate their willingness to purchase or the price they would pay for these shapes.
Indeed, the preference for curved and symmetrical shapes has been observed across various objects, age groups, cultures, and even among different species such as great apes and birds.
How firms capitalize on shapes and symmetry
We also associate curvature and symmetry with sweet tasting foods such honey or chocolate. Now, you probably may have noticed that curved and symmetrical objects have become more commonplace in our daily life interactions.
Think, for instance, about the logos of brands such as Instagram, Spotify, or TikTok. It is no coincidence that they involve certain elements of curvature and symmetry, since we have a natural inclination for curves, order, and balance.
Our sensory systems are tuned to curved and symmetrical features and, thus, our neurological response to them seems effortless, efficient, relaxing, and fluent. This, in turn, may make consumers more likely to prefer a given brand that capitalizes on these features in its marketing elements.
Figure 2: Some examples of aesthetic logos incorporating features such as curvature and symmetry.
Understanding the psychology behind aesthetics is relevant in order to facilitate people’s preference formation. By doing so, we can make the design of products more appealing and create more profound and lasting experiences on people.
Certainly, aside from how firms capitalize on curvature or symmetry, they can also use other sensory elements like colours, textures, and even smells to make their brands more appealing and highlight their quality to people.
Bringing aesthetics to business and customer experiences
But finding the right mix of the sensory elements that make people like something is challenging and may need to be adjusted to specific target groups. For example, although people generally prefer curved and symmetrical objects, they also vary substantially on their sensitivity to how pleasurable these features are. This shows that, although tendencies exist, universal and invariant preferences do not. They are, instead, flexible and multifaced.
We can find a similar relationship when encountering familiar and novel products in the market. Indeed, familiarity is an important predictor of our decisions. We know what we like, we like what we know, and that is one of the reasons why we tend to purchase similar products. However, we sometimes invest our time and money in new products because we crave novelty, originality, or simply want to go against existing trends. Therefore, there are not always simple solutions when it comes to predicting consumer choices.
Consumer choices are complex and dynamic, influenced by personal experiences, context, and flexible, individualized processes that result in remarkable variations in what we perceive as usable, functional, experiential, and beautiful. This highlights the importance of an ongoing process of consumer research and understanding.
Therefore, gaining insight from neuroaesthetics and translating them to business is not an easy task. Indeed, this is something that we also learnt from the psychology behind aesthetics: it is not only about making things look appealing but making them appealing in context. As such, that is why bringing aesthetics to business and customer experience matters!
Chuquichambi, E. G., Vartanian, O., Skov, M., Corradi, G. B., Nadal, M., Silvia, P. J., & Munar, E. (2022). How universal is preference for visual curvature? A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1518(1), 151-165.
Pombo, M., & Velasco, C. (2021). How aesthetic features convey the concept of brand premiumness. Psychology & Marketing, 38(9), 1475-1497.
Skov, M., & Nadal, M. (2020). A farewell to art: Aesthetics as a topic in psychology and neuroscience. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(3), 630-642.