Awhile back I somehow got into a conversation with someone (I can’t remember who at this time) and he brought up a study he had read or heard about where an experiment was conducted on monkeys. I’m reiterating his reiteration of what the experiment was, so forgive me if it’s not accurate. Essentially monkeys were raised having only been exposed to vertical lines and edges, and over time after shown a horizontal line (a table edge, perhaps) the monkeys actually perceived a blurred edge or line, almost as if they couldn’t process horizontal lines completely.

When looking for that study, I came across this one, in which two people enumerated the frequency that the number of horizontal vs vertical vs oblique lines occurred in paintings from 20th century painters displayed in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. They suggest their findings support “the idea that stimuli like horizontal and vertical lines, which are preferentially processed by the visual system, are also aesthetically more powerful.” Coincidentally in their paper they reference optical studies done with animals (like monkeys), which is what I was looking for originally.

Think about applying this in our designs of not just interfaces but any product, because essentially everything (physical) is comprised of and contains horizontal, vertical, and or oblique lines. But what do they mean exactly by “aesthetically more powerful”? I haven’t read the entire paper, which I probably should have before posting, so I’m not sure if they more clearly define their implication. But powerful meaning placed in a group among other things, the one that utilizes horizontal/vertical lines will capture my attention first, will hold it longest, means I’ll be more receptive to the message you’re trying to convey, will more clearly convey a message to me, will imprint that message or the feelings resulting from it more deeply in my brain? And a bit frightening is applying these scientific methods of perception (assuming they are indeed “correct”) unknowingly.

And I think all these studies (though I haven’t read the animal behavior ones either) sort of support the notion of contextual laws/rules. So, would a study of a group of painters from a different era have the same outcome about lines? Perhaps there are other cultures (read groups of people) that may be more receptive to oblique lines. I don’t know, I’m not really looking for answers, I suppose, this just got me thinking and I wanted to do it “out loud” to you guys. )

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